December 17, 2019
Hundreds of litigants appear in the Illinois courts without an attorney every year. The growing number of self-represented litigants (SRLs) in court is not unique to any one circuit, county, or case type. The vast majority of SRLs are not self-represented by choice: most would prefer legal representation, but are unable to find or afford an attorney. SRLs — many who have little or no prior experience with the judicial system — pose a number of challenges for circuit clerks, judges, court staff, other litigants, as well as for themselves.
To address these challenges, the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice (ATJ Commission) and the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts Access to Justice Division (AOIC) recognize, given the size and diversity of Illinois, that local partners are critical to fully understand and address the needs of the SRL population. The ATJ Commission and AOIC established a statewide network of court personnel to work collaboratively and creatively to identify new strategies for improving access to justice.
This project creates, trains, and supports a statewide network of Self-Represented Litigant Coordinators (Coordinators) based in courthouses throughout the state. Coordinators serve as a bridge, linking their courthouses with others throughout the state to share ideas, develop new resources, and establish programs for assisting SRLs.
The project launched in late 2017 with nine judicial circuits receiving grant funds and four additional judicial circuits participating in the statewide Coordinator network. In the second year, 11 jurisdictions received grant funds and two additional circuits participated in the network. The first two years of the program have been a huge success from conducting training for public library self-help center staff to understand e-filing to establishing early resolution divorce programs. Approximately 50,000 self-represented individuals received help from our Coordinators the first two years.
Back Row L-R: Brian Buzard, 17th Circuit; Jill Roberts, AOIC; Halle Cox, 16th Circuit; Helen Doig, 15th Circuit; Jennifer Power, 8th Circuit, Le Ann Brandenburg, 15th Circuit; Jamyce Clegget, JusticeCorps Fellow Kankakee; Jeanne Filipitch, 12th Circuit.
Front Row L-R: Rena' Parker, 10th Circuit; Beth Bogie, 19th Circuit; Adrianne Haley, 21st Circuit; Brenda Sprague, 1st Circuit; Alfreda Baran, 12th Circuit.
The selections for the second year of the program were just finalized. The ATJ Commission and AOIC have selected 12 judicial circuits to receive grants to support them in evaluating and addressing the evolving needs of self-represented litigants in their region of the state. The awardees are:
- First Judicial Circuit: Brenda Sprague will serve all nine counties in the circuit by working with a circuit-wide committee made up of court stakeholders and community members to discuss the needs of SRLs, providing professional training to legal professionals, the public, and SRLs, and increasing community awareness of available resources.
- Third Judicial Circuit: Angela Wille will create a mediation program for divorce cases where both sides are self-represented.
- Eighth Judicial Circuit: Jennifer Power will serve Adams County by continuing a self-represented litigant help desk created last year and by establishing a self-help area with resources in Pike County.
- Tenth Judicial Circuit: Rena' Parker will serve Peoria & Tazewell Counties by continuing an Online Dispute Resolution Program for family law cases to complete mandatory mediation.
- Eleventh Judicial Circuit: Mary Sellmyer will serve McLean County to improve the physical space in the law library for SRLs.
- Twelfth Judicial Circuit: Alfred Baran will serve Will County by coordinating an early resolution program for divorce and paternity cases.
- Fifteenth Judicial Circuit: LeAnn Brandenburg will serve Lee, Ogle, and Carroll counties by supervising Helen Doig, a resource person who staffs a resource room in those three counties and assists SRLs.
- Sixteenth Judicial Circuit: Halle Cox will serve Kane County by upgrading and strengthening SRL resources, translating materials into Spanish, expanding the "Lawyer in the Library" program, and training public librarians on basic legal research.
- Seventeenth Judicial Circuit: Brian Buzzard will serve Winnebago County to create "resource centers" of helpful materials outside of certain courtrooms with high volumes of SRLs.
- Nineteenth Judicial Circuit: Beth Bogie will serve Lake County by helping to continue the pro se family law court call and early resolution program for divorces while also revamping the law library space for SRLs.
- Twenty-Second Judicial Circuit: Susy Huffman will serve McHenry County by continuing their early resolution program for divorce cases where both sides are SRLs.
- Chicago: Nairee Hagopian, Maggie Miller, and Lauren Wynne will continue work on an early resolution triage program involving hearing officers for domestic relations cases filed by SRLs.
- Maywood: LaShanda O'Quinn will create a partnership with a legal aid organization to staff a legal advice help desk for SRLs in District 4.
Please join us in congratulating this year's Coordinators and encouraging their efforts to make Illinois courts better, easier, and more accessible for self-represented litigants.