I am honored and grateful to be given the opportunity to serve the people of Illinois as the 122nd
chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court. Throughout my judicial career, which began in 1983, and has included service as a member of our court system at every level, I have been guided by the canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct to “promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary” and to recognize that “[a]n independent and honorable judiciary is indispensable to justice in our society.” In promoting these core cannons as chief justice, I look forward to working with the bench, bar, and community at large to continue the important work of increasing the public’s trust and confidence in the Illinois court system.
As I begin my tenure as chief justice, I am also guided by the strong example set by my current and former colleagues who have served in this position. Most recently, Justice Anne M. Burke provided strong, skillful, and creative leadership during the unprecedented challenges forced upon the court system by the pandemic. Justice Burke also encouraged the important work of the Illinois Mental Health Task Force, and was instrumental in the creation of the Supreme Court Commission on Elder Law.
Prior to Justice Burke, Justice Rita Garman, during her tenure as chief justice, created the Illinois Judicial College, which increased the professional educational opportunities for both Illinois judges and justice partners. Under her leadership, the court also implemented mandatory e-filing of court documents, to not only increase the efficiency of the court system, but also to reduce costs. Justice Lloyd Karmeier’s tenure saw the expansion of a system to assist self-represented litigants, and he was instrumental in completely revamping the Illinois Judicial Conference. Justice Thomas Kilbride, as chief justice, furthered this court’s commitment to serving all citizens of Illinois by spearheading the formation of the court’s Access to Justice Commission. During his time leading the court, Justice Robert Thomas was responsible for establishing the Commission on Professionalism which continues to this day to promote integrity, civility, and inclusion in the legal and judicial professions, and helps to facilitate equitable and efficient resolution of problems for our state’s citizens.
I am truly inspired by those who came before me, adding their passion and vision to the Illinois court system. I will try to emulate them as I move forward.
First, during my term as chief, I would like to focus more upon the meaning of “access to justice.” In approximately 70% of civil cases filed in Illinois, at least one party is not represented by a lawyer. Our Access to Justice Commission has done fantastic work to assist those who come into court without a lawyer. Going forward, I intend to think about access to justice for people in need in a broader way. This effort would include investigating why pre-pandemic filings in civil cases have declined by approximately 40%. We know that people continue to have legal problems, and meritorious claims, but we need to better understand why fewer cases are being filed. On the criminal side, I am concerned that, in some areas of Illinois, the public defender system does not have all of the resources it needs to perform its important function for indigent defendants. I look forward to learning more about how that challenge can be addressed.
Second, I would like to place more emphasis on the issue of mental and behavioral health, and the enormous impact that it has on courts across the state. We know that for many individuals with mental health, or substance abuse issues, our court system is the de facto entry point for obtaining treatment and services. People with mental illness in Illinois, like across the country, are significantly more likely to be incarcerated than hospitalized. I would like to continue to pursue, and build upon, the important work begun by Justice Burke to assist our courts in responding to the needs of court-involved individuals with serious mental illness and/or substance abuse problems.
Third, I would like to hear from court users to better understand their needs and how our court system might better serve them. By encouraging this exchange of ideas, I hope to not only improve people’s interaction with the Illinois court system, but also explore new ways to increase the people’s trust and confidence in it.
I very much look forward to continuing this dialogue in the months ahead, both here in Illinois Courts Connect and with the community at large.