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Illinois Circuit Court General Information

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 circuit, depending on the type of vacancy they are filling. Associate judges are appointed by circuit judges of that circuit, pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 39, for four-year terms. An associate judge can hear any case, including criminal cases punishable by a prison term of one year or more (felonies) if the associate judge receives special authorization by the Supreme Court. Circuit judges in a circuit elect one of their members to serve as chief circuit court judge. The chief circuit 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. In January 2015, Judge Joseph G. McGraw, Chief Judge of the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit and former vice-chairman of the Conference, was elected by his peers to serve as Chair of the Conference. Judge David A. Hylla, Chief Judge of the Third Judicial Circuit, was elected to serve as the Vice- Chair. 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. Conference Committees active during 2017 include the Article V Committee; Associate Judge Vacancy Committee; Children and Families Committee; Evidenced-Based Pretrial Practices Committee; Executive Committee and the Technology Committee. From time to time, the Conference may establish an ad hoc or special committee convened to study specific short-term subject matter such as the Conferenceís Special Committee on Extended Media Coverage to address issues related to the Supreme Courtís Policy for Extended Media Coverage in the Circuit Courts of Illinois, or the Jury Representation Committee to study whether any issues exist that relate to the disproportionate minority representation in jury pools. Also in 2016, the Conference also established the Court Performance Metrics Committee to review what additional court performance measures and data may benefit chief circuit judges with their responsibilities within their circuit courts.

considered topics in several areas. Early in the year, the Orientation Committee, along with staff from the Administrative Office, met with and provided all new Chief Circuit Judges with information and tools to help guide them in their new administrative role. The Associate Judge Vacancy Committee recommended the use of electronic ballots when appointing and reappointing Associate Judges. The Evidence-Based Pretrial Practices Committee discussed reforming current pretrial practices, including use of new pretrial screening instruments and a review of new bail reform legislation. Ongoing throughout the year, the Special Committee on Standardized Forms disseminated to the Conference and sought review of many court forms developed for use by the Commission on Access to Justice designed to aid self-represented litigants navigate the justice system. The Article V Committee recommended changes to the electronic traffic and civil law citations, as well as amendments to several Article V rules regarding violators that receive multiple citations and ex parte judgments. The Executive Committee continued to review policies and issues related to court reporting services; while the Children and Families Committee recommended revisions to the Order of Commitment to the Department of Juvenile Justice which are consistent with recent statutory changes. The Technology Committee provided updates on the work of the Supreme Court’s e-Business Policy Advisory Board and Technical Committee, including status updates regarding the Court’s statewide electronic filing program, eFileIL. With assistance from the Administrative Office, the Jury Representation Committee initiated a six-month pilot program in multiple counties designed to study the representation in jury pools from some of the most diverse counties in the state through alternative summonsing procedures. The pilot program is anticipated to conclude in 2018. All of the many Conference committees continued to monitor and analyze new legislation, Supreme Court rules and policies relevant to the committee’s focus and the administration of justice in the trial courts as it is introduced and adopted.

In the interest of furthering the knowledge and skills of its members, the Conference hosted a variety of presentations focused on judicial and trial court issues. For example, the Supreme Court’s Judicial Performance Evaluation (JPE) Committee requested the Conference’s assistance in identifying and recruiting new JPE Facilitators from among all active judges. JusticeCorps offered information about assisting self-represented litigants at courthouses throughout the state; and the Supreme Court Committee on Equality presented results of a pilot study and survey of three circuits regarding the psychology underlying judicial decision making, leading to the roll out of the same survey statewide. The State Court Improvement Program presented findings from the five circuits participating in the grant-funded Reimagining Dependency Courts Project aimed at reducing time to permanency and other significant events occurring in child protection cases. Lastly, the Conference was also introduced to the Court’s new comprehensive educational initiative, the Illinois Judicial College, which will enhance educational opportunities to judicial partners working in the courts, such as circuit clerks, trial court administrators, judicial branch staff, probation officers and guardians ad litem.