In this final part of our 3-part report on the remote electronic access system put in place March, 2009, under the watchful eye of Chief Deputy Clerk Keith Brin and his boss, I will show an approximate timeline and the events that led up to it being officially shut down.
Part 1 of this 3-part series contained the law of the land according to the Illinois Supreme Court when it comes to allowing access to court records.
Part 2 of this series discussed the “remote access” system put into place by the Circuit Court Clerks office and how only a “select few” were allowed to use it for the 2 1/2 years of its existence.
With the growing number of disenchanted law offices, background search firms, etc., it was only a matter of time before the shit hit the fan. That seems to be what happened when one judge first became aware of the remote access somewhere around the end of September or early October of this year. Fearing what type of information might be available on the remote access computers and laptops, this judge spoke with the Chief Judge who also was unaware of this remote access and well kept secret setup for only a select few. The Chief Judge did some due diligence to find out if this was something that was legal and allowed before confronting the Clerks office or taking any action. I’m sure that the Chief Judge’s findings were not much different than what I reported in Part 1 from The Supreme Court of Illinois’ Electronic Access Policy manual:
The purpose of this policy is to provide a comprehensive policy on electronic access to the court records held by the Clerk of the Circuit Court.
All courts and clerks shall employ appropriate security measures, procedures, devices, and software to protect the courts records and to prevent unauthorized access.
The official court records held by the Clerk of Court are available for inspection during regular office hours for that office. Such access shall be through the use of a computer terminal for inspection. (Note:The clerk may set a fee for printed pages.) This policy does not preclude or require “after hours” access to court records in electronic form beyond the hours access is available at the courthouse.
The right to disseminate any court records may not be subject to any exclusive contract with another person or entity. Any contract with a vendor to provide electronic access to court records must be approved by the chief judge.
The Supreme Court of Illinois’ Policy makes it pretty clear that the court records (are) held by the Clerk of the Circuit Court and that any type of dissemination MUST be approved by the court.
With information in hand, the Chief Judge called a meeting with Coffelt and Keith Brin only to be told something to the effect that the CRIMS data was THEIRS to do as they pleased because they created the storage database. (CRIMS is the archaic system that the clerks office uses to store their data on). At this point I’m sure that the Chief Judge pointed out what the Supreme Court of Illinois’ manual had to say when it came to ‘access’ and demanded that the remote access be “shut down” before the end of October. Notice was to be sent to everyone currently using it explaining the reason it was being shut down along with a refund of all monies paid to use the remote access.
It is rumored that the letter that was to be sent out required the Chief Judge’s approval and that the original version blamed the Chief Judge for the shut-down. This probably went over like a lead brick since it was the Clerks office that was breaking the law set down by the Illinois Supreme Court when it came to allowing electronic access. Rumor also has it that the revisions to the letter made by the Chief Judge were unacceptable to the Clerks office who finally said they would not shut down the remote access without a court order.
Since the remote electronic access system went silent somewhere around the end of October, we can only assume that the Clerks office got what they asked for. a “Cease & Desist” order.
This may not be the end of this story since an on-site examination of one of the remote access computers showed that the information that was assessable was full non-edit access. This would violate the portion of the Policy that states:
This policy takes into consideration law enforcement risks that would be created by unlimited public access to information in criminal case files, as well as the safety of defendants who are cooperating with prosecuting authorities.
The above being said, it is rumored that the Illinois Attorney Generals Office may be investigating the remote access use because it may have compromised and exposed personal and private information.
I mentioned in this report that the CRIMS system was extremely archaic in design with few programmers left with sufficient knowledge of COBOL to work on it. Yet, this is the same system that the Daily Herald reported back on 7/15/2010 that the clerks office was planning on spending $2.3 million to upgrade to include e-Filing. This is like putting a new storefront on a dilapidated building. Years ago I had a template website built on the NET platform and the hosting company rolled out several ‘new’ templates. Nothing worked right, they couldn’t find any programmers still familiar with the NET platform, customer service became null and void, and eventually they went out of business. Why would you put a $2.3 million band-aid on an archaic system? The Daily Herald also reported that one commissioner refused to vote in favor of the project to develop and implement the project because she “opposed hiring the firm without considering other companies for the assignment.”
One IT business website writes “An IT team fluent in COBOL will be able to efficiently deliver agile business systems that can be moved to more modern platforms………..”.
Why wasn’t the project put out for other bids? Was it because nobody wants to work on an archaic COBOL system or lacked knowledgeable programmers to maintain it? Keep in mind that if YOU build the system, you are expected to have qualified people on-board to maintain and debug it for the term of your contract.
Keith Brin is now running for Clerk of the Circuit Court of Lake County and his website says the following:
- Modernize the Office to Improve Efficiency and Reduce Costs to Taxpayers.
- Utilize Technology to Improve Customer Service and Increase Access & Security.
- Maintain the Lake County Tradition of Fiscal Discipline & Accountability
Should the following also be added to Keith Brin’s campaign site?
- Gain a better understanding of whose records the Clerks office is maintaining
- Follow the law when initiating new programs