Rumble in the Courts

Dorothy Brown, Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County

A veteran Chicago attorney recently filed a defamation lawsuit against Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown that claims she sought to damage the lawyer’s reputation in retaliation for his efforts to expose alleged corruption in the Clerk’s office.

The federal lawsuit—filed in June on behalf of attorney David Novoselsky—accuses Brown of using her office and employees to squash his efforts to bring what he calls “good-faith disputes” to court and for taking action against him personally and professionally.

This is the latest salvo in a lengthy and increasingly costly legal battle between the two parties that started in 2004. Brown claims legal actions brought by Novoselsky are getting expensive, with taxpayers on the hook for more than $1 million to defend against those cases.

The latest lawsuit, a case where Novoselsky himself is the plaintiff, claims Brown tried to damage Novoselsky’s reputation by publicizing a complaint she and her office made against the lawyer that was filed with the legal regulatory arm of the Illinois Supreme Court, the Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission.

That complaint to regulators alleged Novoselsky’s legal actions against Brown were part of a media campaign aimed at derailing her political career, according to the federal lawsuit.

The lawsuit goes on to say that Brown “retaliated against Novoselsky by personally contacting his client in a pending matter, disparaging Novoselsky’s general reputation for honesty, integrity and ability in his profession,” later indicating in the suit that as “a result of defendant Brown’s retaliatory acts, Novoselsky has suffered financial damage, reputational damage, and deterioration to his physical and mental well-being.”

Brown told the Better Government Association there’s no merit to his claims.

Either way, Novoselsky has been a thorn in Brown’s side for years, filing numerous legal actions against her office, either on his own or on behalf of clients.

Brown’s agency is the “official keeper of records for all judicial matters brought into” the county’s court system, according to her website.

As a result, the basic premise of many of the legal actions filed by Novoselsky revolved around an alleged misappropriation and misuse of court automation and document storage fees collected by Brown’s office. The fees are two of many types of fees collected by the office, which, according to Brown, bring in around $300 million annually.

In one Novoselsky filing with the county court’s criminal division, an effort was brought to appoint a special prosecutor to criminally investigate Brown for misuse of the funds. The request was ultimately denied, while many of the cases or Brown’s involvement in cases involving these funds have been dismissed.

For her part, Brown portrayed Novoselsky’s past and present claims as nonsense.

She said she’s at a loss to explain the latest filing—the defamation suit, which seeks nearly $1 million in damages—and will try to have it thrown out.

“We were a little disappointed by it. We were a little confused by it,” Brown told the BGA.

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For his part, Novoselsky contends his legal actions have nothing to do with a financial or personal agenda against Brown, but rather with clients who are concerned about where money goes in the county’s court system.

He also disputed Brown’s assertion that his lawsuits are a drain on county taxpayers.

In a BGA interview, he countered: “I cost the county money? She costs the county money.”

(He also contended that, based on a line of questioning, the BGA seemed to be taking sides with Brown, so he subpoenaed the BGA for documents relating to her. The BGA, a non-profit, non-partisan government watchdog has objected to the subpoenas, claiming protection under the Illinois Reporter’s Privilege Act.)

Brown’s ethics were previously the subject of a BGA/FOX Chicago News investigation that looked into her office’s Jeans Day practice, which allowed employees to wear jeans in exchange for cash payments to an office fund. What happened with most of that cash was unclear.

Brown has been embroiled in other legal battles.

Last year, Brown filed a $1.25-million defamation suit against Terrence O’Brien, board president of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. Brown and O’Brien were both candidates in the 2010 Democratic primary for Cook County Board president. Brown’s suit against O’Brien stemmed from an O’Brien campaign ad that called Brown “ethically challenged.”

Saying in a statement that it was “for the good of the Democratic Party and as a show of unity,” Brown withdrew her lawsuit against O’Brien fewer than five months after filing it.

O’Brien and Brown—who ran unsuccessfully for Chicago mayor in 2007—lost in the primary for Cook County Board president to Toni Preckwinkle, as did the incumbent, Todd Stroger.

This story was reported and written by BGA Investigator James Edwards, who can be reached at (312) 821-9036, or at jedwards@bettergov.org.

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2 Comments

Filed under Courts

2 responses to “Rumble in the Courts

  1. Ronnie Givens

    Easy way to make $1 million. how much did he collect so far? he should be called Novothiefsky.

  2. John Gargey

    This is a lazy attorney looking for free money. He makes all lawyers look real bad losing all these frivoulos cases to make a buck.

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