(CN) – A federal class action in Chicago accuses Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown of soliciting advertising for a court Web site and using the money, along with millions of dollars in court filing fees, as a slush fund to buy cars, pay for campaign events, hire vaguely defined “consultants” and outfit a personal “protective detail.”
The complaint, filed by attorney David Novoselsky on behalf of Wisconsin resident Eric S. Perkins, claims that Brown, with the sanction of Cook County, sells ad space on the court Web site to attorneys, insurance companies and others and uses the site to promote herself and her political career.
The ads give the appearance that certain attorneys and services are “officially sanctioned” by the court, and the revenue is used in whatever way Brown sees fit, the lawsuit claims.
“The funds obtained from this unauthorized and illegal advertising … are deposited by Ms. Brown into her own bank accounts and later used – at least in part – as part of the general revenue of Cook County,” the lawsuit states.
The class also accuses Brown and Cook County of diverting millions of dollars in court filing fees meant to pay for court automation and document storage into a county slush fund referred to as “Fund 883”, which has taken in $14 million to $20 million per year for two decades.
“Defendants admit that these fees, as well as all other fees collected by the Clerk of the Court, are placed directly in the General Revenue Fund of Cook County and thereby used as discretionary general income funds for whatever purpose defendants may deem appropriate rather than used as required by statute,” the lawsuit states.
The money is used, according to the Cook County annual budget, for “attorneys’ fees ostensibly incurred by the Clerk of the Circuit Court, vehicles purchased for her personal use, gasoline and maintenance of those vehicles, as well as to create funds of several million dollars per year for unrestricted and discretionary use by Brown to hire ‘consultants,'” according to the complaint.
“No restriction or limitation on use of those consultant fees is placed on Ms. Brown,” and “no identification of these ‘consultants’ or evidence of their work is available to the public,” the complaint states.
Brown, a Democrat, is a candidate for Cook County Board president.
The plaintiffs sued Brown, Cook County and Chicago attorney Paul Bubaris and Allstate Insurance Company (which purchased advertising on the Web site).
The class demands that Brown be removed from office, repayment of all fees she allegedly converted for unauthorized or personal use, and unspecified damages.