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Illinois Circuit Court General Information

In Illinois, the circuit court is the court of original jurisdiction. There are twentyfour 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 circuitwide, 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 fouryear 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 2016 include the Article V Committee; Chief Circuit Judges Manual Committee; Executive Committee; Orientation 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 Conference’s 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, 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; the Associate Judge Vacancy Committee to review possible amendments to Rule 39 regarding the balloting process for the selection of associate judges; and the Evidenced-Based Pretrial Practices Committee to review and recommend best practices of pretrial assessment and bail practices.

These committees of the Conference considered topics in several areas. The Article V Committee considered and recommended approval of a statewide e-Citation program offered by the Illinois State Police, as well as numerous local electronic citation programs in counties throughout the state. The Article V Committee was also asked to develop and recommend rules to the Conference that relate to the court processing and management of a newly created Civil Law Violation related to the enactment of Public Act 99-0697 and the decriminalization of less than 10 grams of cannabis and drug paraphernalia. As a result, Supreme Court Rules 585 through 590 were adopted. The Special Committee on Extended Media Coverage made recommendations to the Supreme Court’s Policy for Extended Media Coverage in the Circuit Courts of Illinois providing for notice to the media when court dates are added or rescheduled. The Jury Representation Committee recommended a proposal for a pilot program in multiple counties designed to improve the minority representation in jury pools from the most diverse counties in the state through an alternative summonsing procedure. The Executive Committee continued to review policies and issues related to court reporting services; while the Chief Circuit Judges Manual Committee distributed an updated Chief Circuit Judge Manual to all members of the Conference. The Technology Committee provided updates on the work of the Supreme Court’s e-Business Policy Advisory Board and Technical Committee, including the Court’s January 2016 Order mandating the electronic filing of civil cases in all courts by future dates certain. 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. Ongoing throughout the year, the Special Committee on Standardized Forms disseminated and reviewed many court forms developed for use by the Commission on Access to Justice designed to aid self-represented litigants navigate the justice system. All of the many Conference committees continued to monitor and analyze new legislation, Supreme Court rules, policy and forms 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 Illinois Judicial Conference Civil Justice Committee requested the Conference’s assistance in implementing a Civil Juries survey on methods to improve the jurors’ deliberative process and the effectiveness of jury instructions. The Special Supreme Court Committee for Justice and Mental Health Planning presented proposed involuntary admission orders designed to assist judges not as familiar with the process and also sought feedback on a survey regarding the convening juries for mental health cases per statutory provisions. The Illinois Judicial Conference Alternative Dispute Resolution Committee presented to the Conference the status of civil mediation programs in the state. Lastly, the Conference conducted its own survey regarding the current rules and practices pertaining to cell phones and other mobile devices in the courthouses.