By Justice Mary K. Rochford, Chair of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice and the AOIC Access to Justice Division Staff
The Access to Justice Commission is celebrating its 10th anniversary. The Illinois Supreme Court established the Commission in June 2012 with a charge to create and implement court-based programs which would assist self-represented litigants, limited English proficient litigants, and all court users. The Commission sprung in part from a proposal to then Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride (ret.) from the Circuit Court Pro Se Advisory Committee of the Chicago Bar Foundation. The Commission was led by Jeff Colman, its first chair. The Chicago Bar Foundation provided the initial and necessary staffing for the Commission, which included significant assistance from Bob Glaves, Executive Director, and Danielle Hirsch, then Director of Advocacy, Kelly Tautges, then Director of Pro Bono & Court Advocacy, and other members of The Chicago Bar Foundation. Danielle would become the Executive Director of the Commission and then Assistant Director of the Civil Justice Division of the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts. That division was renamed the Access to Justice Division which is now headed by Alison Spanner, Director of Access to Justice and Strategic Planning, and the division has grown to have 18 full-time staff.
Over the past 10 years, we have continued to collaborate with our strategic partners — The Chicago Bar Foundation, Illinois Equal Justice Foundation, Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois, and Illinois Bar Foundation—and many other groups and entities which are dedicated to the cause of access to justice including the Public Interest Law Initiative, Illinois Judicial Conference, Illinois Legal Aid Online, Illinois Access to Justice, Illinois Judicial College, Committee on Equality, ARDC, Commission on Professionalism, and many circuit courts and clerks’ offices across the state. Our partners have provided perspective, experience, and endless collaboration towards a common goal. Under the leadership of the Supreme Court, the Commission, the Access to Justice Division of the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts, our partners, and countless volunteers have sought to “do better” in enhancing access to justice. Together, we raise up the voices of court users and develop the innovative projects envisioned by the Supreme Court at the time the Commission was established.
The Commission has done some higher-level but significant work including Illinois Supreme Court policies on language access, plain language, use of cell phones in court, remote appearances in civil cases, and guidance to clerks and court staff regarding the delineation between legal information and legal advice. But we have also sought to be more proximate to court users in our initiatives with for example, Illinois Court Help, Illinois Legal Answers for Appeals, Illinois JusticeCorps, self-represented litigant coordinators, certification of court interpreters, community outreach including listening tours and town halls, assistance in the creation of early resolution programs for divorce proceedings, and extensive education and training. Our standardized court forms suites and other resources are used by self-represented litigants throughout the state in a wide variety of case types and proceedings. In all, we believe that we have made a difference. We are also determined to do much more.
The Commission is immensely grateful to all those who have supported our work from the time we were established until today and welcome those who wish to join us going forward.
Please take the time to read about the Commission’s successes, plans for the future, and award winners we honored this year in the Commission’s Reflections magazine
looking back over the first 10 years of the Commission.
For a list of recent volunteers, see page 51 of the Commission’s 2020-2023 Strategic Plan.