Cook County Court Is Missing Up to Half-Billion, Class Says

      CHICAGO (CN) - Between $340 million and $560 million in fees collected from Cook County Circuit Court litigants in the past decade are unaccounted for, taxpayers claim in a class action, seeking a court-ordered audit of the clerk's office.
     Lead plaintiff Mark Schacht, M.D., on behalf of Cook County taxpayers, sued the President of the Cook County Board Toni Preckwinkle, 17 Cook County Commissioners, and Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County Dorothy Brown, on Friday in Cook County Court.
     "Plaintiffs seek to compel the County and the Clerk to provide audits of the office of the Clerk as required by 705 ILCD 105/27.8," the complaint begins. "The financial reports presented by the County to the public and to the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts do not present audits completed in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards and generally accepted auditing standards; instead, the financial reports accepted from the Clerk, published by the County, and supplied to the AOIC reveal a glaring failure to properly account for hundreds of millions of dollars of court funds collected from litigants."
     The Clerk's Office collects nearly $200 million per year in fees from litigants with cases pending in Cook Country Circuit Court, according to the complaint.
     But 15 percent to 23 percent of that money is not accounted for in the clerk's financial reports, the taxpayers claim.
     "Plaintiffs' estimate of the magnitude of the funds not reported by the Clerk and the County ranges from $340,716,782 to $563,268,327 from 2001 through 2012," the complaint states.
     The clerk collects certain fees earmarked for specific purposes, such as document storage and security.
     However, "the reported receipts contain material inconsistencies for accounts that, under established law and reported collection practices, should not be inconsistent. In the context of the Count Automation Fund and the Document Storage Fund, litigants were required to make payments to both funds at the same time, in the same manner of cases and in the same amounts, but a comparison of reported receipts for Court Automation and Document Storage reveals substantial differences between accounts that cannot be explained," according to the complaint.
     "More significantly, a comparison of reported receipts for all five special-purpose funds with the reported case volumes in the Circuit Court of Cook County establishes an astounding discrepancy between the receipts reported and the receipts expected under operation of law. That discrepancy, for the twelve years analyzed in this complaint, measures in the hundreds of millions of dollars."
     Plaintiffs say these and other substantial inconsistencies in the clerk's financial reports require a proper audit.
     Their lead counsel is David Novoselsky.