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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. In 2014, and due to the appointment of former Conference Chairperson Judge S. Gene Schwarm, Chief Judge of the Fourth Judicial Circuit, to the Fifth District Appellate bench in March, Judge Elizabeth A. Robb, Chief Judge of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit, former vice-chairperson of the Conference, was elected to serve as chairperson of the Conference in April. Judge Joseph G. McGraw, Chief Judge of the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit, was elected to serve as the new 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 2014 include the Article V Committee; Chief Circuit Judges Manual Committee; Executive 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 previously 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. In addition, and during 2014, the Conference also established a Subcommittee on Language Access to review draft language for the Supreme Court’s Language Access Policy and Code of Interpreter Ethics, a Nominating Committee to assist with the process of electing leadership positions for the Conference, and a special Jury Representation Committee to study whether the any issues exist that relate to disproportionate minority representation in jury pools.

During 2014, the committees of the Conference considered subject matter in several areas. The Article V Committee considered proposing several changes to Article V rules, including rules 501, 529 and 574 which impact the procedures and processes regarding traffic, conservation and ordinance violations, and also to accommodate changes to statutes proposed by PA 98-0870, also known as the Sign & Drive law. The Article V Committee also reviewed changes to the Uniform Citations, as well as printing instructions to accommodate a county’s possible implementation of an electronic citations (e-Citation) program. Lastly, the Article V Committee developed and studied multiple proposals that could impact bail and the assessment and percentage distribution of monies that result from minor traffic and conservation cases resolved without a court appearance. The Special Committee on Extended Media Coverage considered expanding certain witness exemptions and general notice provisions in the Supreme Court’s Policy for Extended Media Coverage in the Circuit Courts of Illinois. The Subcommittee on Language Access reviewed draft language for the Supreme Court’s Language Access Policy and Code of Interpreter Ethics, which is to provide guidance to ensure access to courts for individuals with a Limited English Proficiency which was adopted by the Supreme Court in October 2014. The Jury Representation Committee collected and analyzed statewide data related to the jury summonsing and selection process as they continue to study the minority representation in jury pools for possible recommendations to the Conference and Court in the next year. The Executive Committee continued to review policies and issues related to court reporting services; while the Chief Circuit Judges Manual Committee continued with revisions and updates to the Chief Circuit Judge Manual. The Technology Committee met with other court technology related committees, learned of several e-business related initiatives being discussed statewide, and assisted in the Supreme Court’s establishment of the e-Business Policy Advisory Board and Technical Committee, which consolidated the multiple court technology committees into a single entity. 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, including forms related to expungement, divorce and dissolution, orders of protection, mortgage foreclosure, as well as review drafts of the Proposed Self-Help Services Policy, a policy intended to provide guidance to court clerks, law librarians and self-help center staff as to the assistance they can provide to self-represented individuals. All of the many Conference committees continued to monitor and analyze new legislation, Supreme Court rules, policies 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 Conference received information from the Supreme Court Committee on Illinois Evidence with regard to implementing the newly created codified Rules of Evidence; the Judicial Inquiry Board about the role of Chief Judges when a judge has been referred to the Board; and the Supreme Court Committee on Professionalism and their lawyer-to-lawyer mentoring program. The Illinois Department of Corrections made a presentation about their Impact Incarceration Program, and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services shared their plans and goals to improve capacity to families with children in need, reduce mal-treatment of children in foster care and improve upon the timeliness to permanency. Finally, the Conference also heard from the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority about the need to expand upon information sharing among the courts and law enforcement so as to enhance public safety; and from Kankakee Community College about a new Illinois Civics Academy for Teachers which hopes to improve the civic literacy of Illinois students by training secondary educators, and invited participation from the judiciary.