November 22, 2019
During this time of thanks, we take this opportunity to celebrate the vibrant access to justice community in Illinois, and express our appreciation for the many people who work so hard to reduce the barriers that self-represented litigants face in accessing the court system. Therefore, with this month's column, we recognize just a few of the many individuals who have made contributions to improve the justice system in Illinois.
At the outset, it is necessary (and hopefully obvious) to point out that this list of wonderful partners is only representative and that we could fill many, many newsletter columns highlighting the great work being done.
But, for now, we highlight just a few of the access to justice champions:
- Kathryn Hensley, Senior Program Manager, Access to Justice Division
Kathryn has been busy building the AOIC's Appellate Resource Program from scratch. We now have robust self-help resources on civil appeals on the Supreme Court's website.
She is also exploring a virtual civil appeals help desk and developing additional resources including short videos which explain the appellate process in a digestible and engaging way. Finally, because of Kathryn's advocacy, the AOIC is collecting data on the number of SRLs who file a notice of appeal. This new data will allow the AOIC and ATJ Commission to gain an accurate picture of the number of SRLs attempting to appeal their case which will be vital information to inform future projects. Thanks so much, Kathryn!
- Helen Doig, Resource Person, 15th Judicial Circuit
Helen has a tall order serving five rural counties in the northwest corner of the state. Through funding from the ATJ Commission for the SRL Coordinator Program, Helen has set up resource areas in the many courthouses that dot the 15th circuit to ensure SRLs have the information and materials they need to meaningfully participate in their court case. On top of that, she has developed great relationships with the Circuit Clerk's office to make sure everyone can help SRLs e-file easily. Helen, we applaud you!
- Prairie State Legal Services, partners in Early Resolution Programs for Divorce cases
Prairie State Legal Services (PSLS) is helping two counties redefine the process for getting divorced in Illinois. McHenry County and Lake County have each recently launched an Early Resolution Program to reduce the time it takes for couples to get divorced. PSLS is a vital partner in this work. PSLS attorneys meet with litigants involved in the Early Resolution Program to ensure important paperwork is complete, procedural requirements are met, and that they are ready to finalize their divorce in just a single court visit. Without this partnership these Early Resolution Programs would not be possible. We appreciate your efforts, PSLS!
- Circuit Clerk Kathy Keefe, Circuit Clerk of McHenry County
Kathy has been enthusiastically involved in several access-related projects including sitting on the Illinois Judicial Conference (Illinois' strategic planning body—see the first Strategic Agenda published in October) and the Illinois Judicial College Committee on Circuit Clerk Education. While doing all of that work in addition to her day job, Kathy's office also launched a text-message reminder program to help litigants, witnesses, or interested parties stay informed of upcoming court dates, which is serving as a model for the rest of the state. Tremendous work, Kathy!
- Rena' Parker, Trial Court Administrator for the 10th Judicial Circuit
Rena' is a regular partner of the ATJ Commission because she is always willing to think creatively and boldly to advance access to justice. Rena' has been a member of the Self-Represented Litigant Coordinator network for the last two years. Under Rena's guidance and encouragement, Peoria County recently launched the state's first Online Dispute Resolution program. The Online Dispute Resolution program helps self-represented parents work towards agreements on parenting plans before meeting with a mediator. Well done, Rena'!
- Carolyn Clift, Commissioner, ATJ Commission
Carolyn chairs the ATJ Commission's Community Trust Committee. This Committee seeks to better understand the needs of residents in urban, suburban, and rural places in Illinois and helps address barriers to accessing the court and improve communication and information exchange between courts and the public. The Committee is currently focusing its efforts on the south suburbs of Cook County. It held three town hall meetings to explore the unique barriers that exist in accessing courthouses and legal services in the area as well as identify areas for improvement and collaboration. Carolyn is leading the charge in implementing recommendations that came out of those town halls. Carolyn, we can't thank you enough!
- Marissa Wiesman, Director of Volunteer Services/Attorney at Law, Prairie State Legal Services
Marissa is a fantastic ATJ Commission volunteer. For over five years, she has served on the Civil Procedures Subcommittee, a subcommittee of the ATJ Commission's Forms Committee, and has been instrumental in drafting plain language legal forms, including the application for waiver of court fees, motion, appearance, and answer/response. Additionally, Marissa is an active member of the ATJ Commission's Remote Appearance Committee that is figuring out ways for case participants to "appear" in court from home or another remote location. Marissa, thanks for being a part of our work!
- The Honorable Elizabeth Rochford, Associate Judge, 19th Judicial Circuit (Lake County)
On October 22, 2018, Judge Rochford began hearing only Self-Represented Litigant cases in her Family Division courtroom. Deputy Chief Judge Diane E. Winter stated that “Through Judge Rochford’s commitment and ability to share her vision with others, Lake County has the most comprehensive approach in the State to ensure self-represented litigants (SRLs) have access to justice in a meaningful and respectful manner.” Judge Rochford is also sharing her experience and insights about running an SRL court call through her work on the ATJ Commission's Court Guidance and Training Committee. Judge Rochford, we support and applaud you!
Please join us in thanking not only these incredible people for their contributions to improve the Illinois judicial system, but all of those who have been so involved in achieving access to justice.