Both attorneys and clients have reached the boiling point with their government’s failed response regarding the dismal shutdown of our courts, agencies, and municipalities. Obviously, during a pandemic there will be changes in the way some systems operate. This does not mean that the government can simply stop doing their job. There is a fundamental duty of the government to provide the services that taxpayers fund on a consistent and reliable basis. Our government employees are still being paid. Private businesses are still operating, finding work from home work-arounds for employees. It should not be beyond the capacity of the most powerful country in the world to be able to do the same, if not better.
We are a small law office in Oak Lawn, IL. We handle a number of practice areas including Estate Planning, Social Security Disability, Family Law, and Guardianship. What makes us unique is that we work with the government in almost all of their levels. What is so surprising is just how poorly our governments response has been on all levels of administration. Let me provide some examples of the frustration we have had to undertake in the last few months. We will start with your local government.
In Oak Lawn, like many municipalities, when you wish to transfer a property via sale, estate distribution, or changing of title, you must receive a transfer stamp. This type of stamp allows the municipalities to ensure there is not an outstanding balance on municipal services prior to a transfer. The job of the clerk in this type of stamp is simple. Run the property index number against the municipal billing and determine if there is an outstanding balance. If there is a balance, inform the citizen client so that the balance can be paid. If there is not balance, stamp the form and return it to the firm. There is no need for in person interaction in this setup. Attorneys can fax or email the form to the village, and the village can email or mail the stamp back. There is no reason the clerk couldn’t perform this duty from their home. My office has sent the forms to the village three weeks ago for a client who needs this transfer of title on an emergency basis. No one at the village responds to phone calls, returns phone messages, or processes the transfer stamps. This type government service is the simplest style of transformation under new Covid-19 protocol. This failure of the local government to process stamps places their citizens at risk of failure to be able to transfer property, insure property, or defeat Estate Planning Goals. There are hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake for the citizens, and Oak Lawns response is that they are shut down to help prevent the spread of the virus.
How is the state/county government responding? In Cook County, the recorder of deeds office did not begin to accept mail in deeds until May 5th. The courts are closed except for criminal arraignments or whatever the sitting judge decides is an emergency. Properties that are in probate cannot be distributed. Custody schedules for children cannot be finalized. If you lost your job, good luck getting your child support modified, not considered an emergency. Is there a child who needs guardianship because the parent is unfit, the court doesn’t see that as an emergency.
We can give credit to the Social Security Administration for their efforts to maintain a working government system while protecting their staff and the applicants. Social Security took two weeks reorganize the employees to be able to work from home. They set provisions for hearings to be performed telephonically. All those attending the hearing, including judges, attorneys, expert witnesses, and claimants all conference call with the hearing monitor to ensure people can receive the benefits. Most disability applications take over a year to receive a favorable decision. The delays that Covid-19 would create would place a further hardship on disabled Americans. Many of whom are losing their homes from being without work from there disabilities. The judge’s clerks are more available than ever to answer questions and update exhibits. This is a perfect example of a government agency shifting course to accommodate their “customers” needs, while keeping their staff and the public safe.
There are real world consequences to the government failing to do their job. Most government agencies, courts, and municipalities are failing in finding alternative ways to serve the public. We deserve better service from our government, they should be following Social Security’s model of continuing to provide their services in a safe and efficient manner. Remember, with the election season looming, you are paying for these services through your taxes, you should be receiving the benefits. If private entities have to adjust, you should expect no less from your public officials.