Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown and her husband, Benton Cook III, have had a relatively quiet 2015, at least in public terms, and when compared to 2014.
Last year brought a number of unwelcome headlines for the couple, involving:
A Brown campaign donor essentially giving Cook a piece of property that was subsequently sold for $100,000 by Brown’s consulting company. The in-house watchdog for Cook County government launched an investigation into this, following disclosures by the Better Government Association and FOX 32.
Cook receiving a taxpayer grant through then-Gov. Pat Quinn’s anti-violence initiative, which federal and local authorities have since investigated to see whether any money was misused and to see whether politics drove who got money. Cook ultimately was subpoenaed, but hasn’t been charged with any wrongdoing.
Brown soliciting her Circuit Court clerk employees to join a New York-based multi-level marketing operation she was involved in. This also was the subject of a BGA/FOX 32 story.
These stories followed earlier news reports into the “jeans day” program that allowed employees to wear jeans to work if they paid a few dollars in cash. The program was lambasted for poor record keeping.
Brown was also criticized for accepting campaign contributions from employees.
Both practices were halted, Brown previously said.
So why are things so quiet now? Are the outside investigations still going on? How’s Brown doing?
We sought her out at a recent public event on the South Side – the dedication of a park – to ask these and other questions, to get an update. Brown was not unfriendly but not terribly talkative.
“Oh hi . . . how are you?” she said when approached by a reporter from the BGA. “Good to see you.”
When asked about the troubles she and her husband have faced, she responded, “Oh, well I’m just here for this event right now.”
When asked about subpoenas in any of the cases, she said, “Thanks . . . I’m here for this event right now.”
When pressed further, Brown responded with, “God bless you” four times before turning her back.
Some months earlier we similarly tried to get information about any subpoenas sent to her agency – the bureaucratic arm of the court system, the repository of court records – and Brown refused to release anything, arguing she’s “not subject to” the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, which guarantees public access to certain public records.
Bottom line is we aren’t sure what’s new with the allegations that were swirling around Brown and her husband last year.
But we know some things haven’t changed: Brown is as mum as ever on legitimate questions about how she runs her office.