November 22, 2019
If you have attended a conference on the topic of court technology in the past few years, you have probably seen a presentation that makes comparisons between photographs of 19th and 21st Century medical operating rooms (completely dissimilar) and 19th and 21st Century courtrooms (remarkably similar). The point of the photos is, of course, to illustrate how the court system has been slow to evolve to meet modern-day needs.
But a closer look reveals that courts are, in fact, becoming more and more responsive to technology needs, both nationally and in Illinois. For years, Illinois courts have utilized systems for electronically recording proceedings, evidence presentation, assistive listening, video bond call, remote language interpreting, as well as cameras in the courtroom. And a few Illinois courts are exploring new measures to further modernize how we do things in the court system.
I am thrilled to announce three test programs that will use technology to improve court access and provide a technological step forward for the Illinois courts.
ODR in Peoria County
Already underway in Peoria County is Illinois’ first court-annexed Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) pilot program. Peoria County received approval from the Illinois Supreme Court and began its ODR pilot program on Oct. 15 using a $5,000 grant from the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice Self-Represented Litigant Coordinator program. The pilot ODR program is an enhancement to the mandatory mediation program in Dissolution cases for self-represented and/or indigent parents.
Local court leaders believe this technology will provide greater access for all self-represented litigant parties, will assist the judiciary in resolving parenting disputes and will reduce the burden placed on members of the local bar who provide pro bono services in these mediations. As of Nov. 14, two successful parenting plans have been completed.
Remote Video in Cook County
The Circuit Court of Cook County and the Illinois Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission recently announced a partnership to allow individuals to appear for cases remotely in three different Divisions of the Cook County Circuit Courts. The Remote Video Pilot program will launch on December 2, 2019, and run through November 30, 2020. Two judges from the Chancery, County, and Domestic Relations Divisions will oversee the use of remote video in their courtrooms.
In the Chancery Division, remote video will be used for contested mortgage foreclosure cases on two calendars. In the County Division, remote video will be used for mental health proceedings, such as a mental health case management call one day per week, and for unique situations where a party may be located in a different county or state and a video proceeding would allow a more efficient disposition. In the Domestic Relations Division, remote video will be used for one individual calendar status call and one individual calendar post-decree call.
Data will be collected during the pilot’s run to determine the advisability of broader expansion throughout Cook County as well as possible statewide expansion.
Remote Access Policy and re:SearchIL rollout
Over the summer, eFileIL reached a milestone when DuPage County joined, bringing all of the state’s 102 counties, five appellate districts and the Supreme Court onto the statewide system for e-filing. EFileIL processed its highest number of filings ever in October (674,331) and now has over 300,000 registered users. It has been a long road since the first e-filed envelope was accepted in Logan County on Oct. 31, 2016, but the next step is coming to fruition with the third new initiative – the Supreme Court’s approval of a Remote Access Policy allowing for remote access to court information and documents through re:SearchIL.
The phased rollout for the re:SearchIL statewide database of case information is anticipated for January 1, 2020. The re:SearchIL portal will be tested with a select group of licensed Illinois attorneys before expanded access to all licensed Illinois attorneys and legal service providers. A review of this initial release will be conducted prior to June 30, 2020, and further expansion to judicial partners and the public with be evaluated and considered at that time.
The initial rollout for attorneys will include filings in six case categories: Arbitration (AR), Eminent Domain (ED), Law (L), Law Magistrate (LM), Municipal Corporation (MC) and Tax (TX). Court orders, as vital pieces of information in case files, will be included from courts that have integrated with re:SearchIL. As additional courts integrate with re:SearchIL, they will be required to surface written court orders to re:SearchIL.
The initial rollout will not include confidential case categories and documents. Supreme Court Rule 9 will be updated to further clarify that clerks are relieved of the responsibility of inaccuracies submitted by e-filers during the filing process.
The re:SearchIL program will provide many benefits to the Illinois courts and legal community, such as:
- Increased transparency and accessibility through a single portal to a unified, centralized database of court documents and information
- Simplified access across multiple counties, regardless of case management system
- Reduction of printed documents needed by judges
- Secure access from any device, including PCs, Macs, tablets and smartphones
We look forward to working with the legal community during the rollout. Having a single point of access for statewide case information is a great step forward for increased efficiency and transparency within our courts.
These three initiatives are just the start of what we expect to be continued technology improvements for the courts as implementation of the Illinois Judicial Conference Strategic Agenda gets underway. Change is never easy, but it is imperative for the courts to test and implement technology in a way that benefits court users.