Ever since revelations surfaced of federal authorities investigating possible job-selling and other corruption in her office, Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown has been politically radioactive.
But one political candidate isn’t afraid to publicly associate with Brown: Mary Melchor, running for Cook County judge in next month’s Democratic primary.
Melchor’s campaign fund accepted a $500 contribution from Brown’s campaign fund in late 2017, records and interviews show.
Brown and Melchor — whose political committees once shared the same treasurer — also share a workplace. For more than 12 years, Melchor has been Brown’s in-house watchdog, the agency’s inspector general — a post that its website says aims to promote “efficiency, effectiveness and ethical behavior and to detect and prevent fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement in the operations” of the government agency.
It’s unclear whether Melchor has looked into the issues at the heart of the ongoing criminal investigation.
Four years ago, Cook County Inspector General Patrick Blanchard — whose office has jurisdiction over “all operations of Cook County government” — began investigating Brown after news reports revealed her husband was handed a commercial building by a Brown campaign fund-raiser.
Brown’s name later was added to the paperwork for the property, and the ownership was transferred to a business she ran. The property was then sold for $100,000, and Brown never reported it as either a gift or a campaign contribution.
Blanchard’s investigation led to the involvement of Cook County and federal prosecutors, who have also focused on allegations that jobs and promotions were being sold at Brown’s agency.
As a result of that, a former low-level employee of the court clerk’s office pleaded guilty to lying to a grand jury amid allegations he gave a $15,000 “loan” to a company owned by Brown and her husband in exchange for being hired by her agency.
A case accusing a one-time top administrator in the court clerk’s office of lying to a grand jury remains pending.
A recent federal court filing accused another high-ranking court clerk employee of job-selling and another worker of buying his job. That filing — later sealed — made it clear the federal investigation remains active and involves Brown, who has not been charged with any crime.
Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown. | Rich Hein / Sun-Times files
Brown — who was first elected in 2000 and whose agency is the bureaucratic arm of the court system, processing and storing filings, including lawsuits — has denied any wrongdoing.
Ed Genson, one of Brown’s attorneys, says he doesn’t expect her to be charged with any crime.
Reached at work, Melchor wouldn’t discuss her judicial campaign, declined a request for an interview after work hours and hung up.
Asked about the $500 contribution from Brown’s campaign fund, Melchor’s campaign treasurer, John Butts, said, “Any candidate can accept contributions from anybody, I would think.”
Butts noted that the contribution, which was reported to the Illinois State Board of Elections in late October, came from Brown’s campaign fund and not from her personally.
The elections board also lists Butts as one of Brown’s campaign treasurers, in addition to having that role with Melchor. But he said he left Brown’s operation in October after serving in that capacity for about two decades — “I thought it was just time to go” — and hasn’t spoken with Brown since.
Brown’s campaign fund has paid a company affiliated with Butts more than $180,000 for campaign consulting work since 2001, according to records and interviews.
The latest court filing includes a Dec. 6 letter from federal prosecutors in which they say they “recently obtained additional materials” from Brown’s campaign treasurer and a former campaign finance official.
Butts said he doesn’t know whether that refers to him but that he’s aware the Brown “campaign turned over a lot of documents” to authorities.
“As far as I know,” Butts said, Brown’s campaign did “nothing wrong.”
Melchor started work at the court clerk’s office in 2002 in another administrative position. Brown appointed her inspector general in 2005.
Melchor and her law firm at the time made nine campaign contributions to Brown totaling $2,650 in 2002 and 2003, records show.
Melchor’s campaign also has accepted money from employees of the court clerk’s office where she’s the in-house watchdog, records show.
Melchor is one of three Democrats running in the March 20 primary for a seat in the Fifth Judicial Subcircuit in Chicago. She previously ran for judge in 2014, coming in last of four candidates in the Democratic primary.
In that race, one of the two major groups vetting judicial candidates rated Melchor “not recommended,” and the other called her “not qualified,” each citing a lack of experience.
Brown’s campaign gave $500 to Melchor’s campaign during that race, too.