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Illinois Circuit Court General Information

The court of “original jurisdiction” is the circuit court. Effective December 3, 2012, as a result of Public Act 97-0585, Illinois is now divided into twenty-four circuits, six of which are single county circuits (Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will). The remaining eighteen circuits contain two to twelve counties per circuit.

In Illinois, the circuit court is the court of original jurisdiction. There are twenty-four circuits in the state. Six are single county circuits (Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will) and the remaining eighteen circuits comprise as few as two and as many as twelve counties each. Except for redistricting of the general assembly and ruling on the ability of the governor to serve or resume office, the circuit court has jurisdiction for all matters properly brought before it. The circuit court shares jurisdiction with the Supreme Court to hear cases relating to revenue, mandamus, prohibition, and habeas corpus. If the Supreme Court chooses to exercise its authority in a case of these types, the circuit court loses jurisdiction. The circuit court is also the reviewing court for certain state agency administrative orders. There are two types of judges in the circuit court: circuit judges and associate judges. Circuit judges are elected for a six year term and may be retained by voters for additional six year terms. They can hear any circuit court case. Circuit judges are initially elected either circuit-wide, from the county where they reside or from a sub-circuit within a county, depending on the type of vacancy they are filling. Associate judges are appointed by circuit judges, pursuant to supreme court rules, for four-year terms. An associate judge can hear any case, except criminal cases punishable by a prison term of one year or more (felonies). An associate judge can be specially authorized by the Supreme Court to hear all criminal cases. Circuit judges in a circuit elect one of their members to serve as chief circuit court judge. The chief judge has general administrative authority in the circuit, subject to the overall administrative authority of the Supreme Court. The chief judge can assign cases to general or specialized divisions within the circuit.

Circuit Court Administrative Matters

Conference of Chief Circuit Judges: The Conference of Chief Circuit Judges is comprised of the chief circuit judges from the twenty-four Illinois judicial circuits. Judge S. Gene Schwarm, Chief Judge of the Fourth Judicial Circuit, serves as chairperson of the Conference and Judge Elizabeth A. Robb, Chief Judge of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit, serves as vice-chairperson. The Conference meets regularly to discuss issues related to the administration of justice in the circuit courts and other matters referred to the Conference by the Supreme Court. The Administrative Office serves as secretary to the Conference.

Conference Committees and Activities: The Conference has several established committees which address particular issues, and provide information and recommendations. Committees active during 2013 include the Article V Committee; Chief Circuit Judges Manual Committee; Children and Families Committee; Executive Committee; Planning and Programs Committee; Orientation Committee; and Technology Committee. From time to time, the Conference may establish an ad hoc or special committee convened to study specific, short-term subject matter. To that extent, the Conference established the Special Committee on Extended Media Coverage to address issues related to the Supreme Court’s Policy for Extended Media Coverage in the Circuit Courts of Illinois. Additionally, in 2013, the Special Committee on Standardized Forms Review was created to meet the requirements set forth in the Supreme Court’s Administrative Order (M.R. 25401), which provides guidance and detail regarding the process for developing, reviewing and approving standardized court forms in accordance with Supreme Court Rule 10-101.

During 2013, the committees of the Conference considered subject matter in several areas. The Article V Committee began consideration on certain issues related to ordinance violations involving traffic offenses as governed by Supreme Court Rule 574, and proposed recommendations to several Article V Rules resulting from the provisions effectuated under Public Act 98-0511. The Conference began working with the Department of Corrections to update the Order of Commitment and Sentence to the Illinois Department of Corrections. The Conference also worked with the Illinois State Police to ensure proper Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) reporting for adjudicated mentally disabled and domestic violence convictions. The Special Committee on Extended Media Coverage considered areas regarding the definition and role of a live blogger in the courtroom; considered proposed changes to certain definitions for certain case types covered under the Supreme Court’s Policy for Extended Media Coverage in the Circuit Courts of Illinois; made a recommendation to the Supreme Court regarding jury admonishment and instruction as it relates to the Extended Media Policy; and developed general guidelines for including media rooms in the Minimum Courtroom Standards. The Article V Committee, Special Committee on Extended Media Coverage, and Special Committee on Standardized Forms Review continued to monitor and analyze new legislation, and Supreme Court rules, policy and forms, relevant to the committee’s focus and the administration of justice in the trial courts. As necessary, related forms, policy, orders, etc., were modified in accordance with the new provisions. The Special Committee on Standardized Forms Review considered comments and suggestions to the Name Change forms proposed by the Commission on Access to Justice. The Technology Committee studied the availability of technologies relating to remote access to courtrooms and audio/videoconferencing; considered standardization of data definitions and exchange methods for e-Filing and e-Records; and examined the plausibility of integration of case management systems in a statewide capacity.

In the interest of furthering the knowledge and skills of its members, the Conference hosted a variety of presentations focused on trial court issues. For example, a leadership retreat was held in May 2013 with a focus on improving the leadership teams in each circuit court; the Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council made a presentation regarding sentencing policies and practices, and its impact in reducing recidivism; a presentation was made by the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board regarding recurring issues and matters, and informal dialogue occurred with respect to judicial performance; the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission made a presentation regarding amendments to Supreme Court Rule 707 with respect to permission for an out-of-state attorney to provide legal services in proceedings in Illinois; a presentation was made regarding the Child Protection Data Courts project; the Illinois Judicial Ethics Committee offered a presentation regarding its services as a resource for judges seeking objective, confidential and practical guidance/advice with respect to judicial ethics issues covered under the Code of Judicial Conduct. Finally, the Conference coordinated and participated in several mini education series, including a presentation on the Affordable Care Act, and trauma and mental health needs of children and adolescents in the court system.