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Term Opens with Flurry of New Initiatives

9/27/2017

September 27, 2017

While the Supreme Court does not convene as a body during the summer (see 705 ILCS 10/2 (West 2016)), the business of the court never stops. This summer was particularly busy. While the members of the court drafted opinions, reviewed petitions for leave to appeal and voted on motions, our committees, boards and Administrative Office worked on a range of important and exciting new projects. Many of these were completed and submitted for the court’s approval at its September term, which concluded last week. Here are some highlights:

Illinois Judicial College Launches. Providing the highest quality judicial education has long been a priority of the Supreme Court. Historically, the court’s educational efforts have been led by the Education Committee of the Judicial Conference. The court ultimately determined, however, that its educational objectives would be better served through the creation of a new judicial college. The planning phase for the transition to the new system has been completed, and the court has approved the agenda for the inaugural meeting of the college next month.

Law School for Legislators Program Made Official. In the past, the court has experimented with educational programs designed to help new legislators better understand how the court system works and how the three branches of government interact under our Constitutional order. A successful “Law School for Legislators” program was hosted by the court earlier this year. The program worked out so well the court has now decided to do a similar program in January of 2019, following the next general election.

Oral Arguments Hit the Road Again. Since I joined the court, we have made an effort to better inform the public on the work we do by “riding circuit,” that is, by holding oral argument at various locations throughout the state. I am pleased to announce that the court will continue this tradition during its upcoming March 2018 term. This time we will convene at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. The final logistics have been worked out, the date has been set (March 15), and our planning committee will be working with local schools and others to organize educational outreach programs in connection with this special session of court.

Illinois State Commission on Pretrial Practices Finalized. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court approved, in concept, the creation of a new commission focused on pretrial reform. The Court has now approved the list of organizations that will be asked to send representatives to serve on the Commission. The list covers all three branches of state government, circuit clerks, law enforcement organizations, public defenders and representatives of victims, among others. Effective pretrial reform is critical to our obligation to ensure due process and equal justice under the law, and the court looks forward to the reports and recommendations from this new commission. Justice Anne M. Burke will serve as the Court’s liaison.

E-Filing Options Clarified for Self-Represented Litigants. One of the goals of our new e-filing system is to improve accessibility and ease of use of judicial resources. Recently, however, the Court’s Access to Justice Commission and others have expressed concerns that e-filing may actually present a new barrier for self-represented litigants. The fear is that such litigants may lack meaningful access to a computer or the internet, both of which are needed to e-file documents and receive e-service, or that they will lack the experience or technical proficiency necessary to access and navigate the e-filing system. Worries have also been expressed regarding how readily the system can be accessed by those with limited English-language proficiency. Existing rules already provide for a “good cause exemption” and allow self-represented litigants to opt out of e-service in favor of more traditional means of service. Based on recommendations from our e-Policy Board, however, the Access to Justice Commission is drafting a form, similar to the application for waiver of filing fees, to simplify the procedure by which self-represented litigants may apply for an exemption under the existing rules. These forms will be available in every circuit clerk’s office and may be submitted manually to the court for review and approval. The Access to Justice Commission will also be proposing amendments to the rules to clarify what qualifies as “good cause” for an exemption.

Authorization Streamlined for Temporary Practice in Illinois Following a Major Disaster. Several years ago, this Court adopted Rule 718 to permit lawyers from outside Illinois to provide legal services here on a temporary basis following a major disaster. The Court has now approved an amendment to that rule to aid such lawyers in completing the administrative steps necessary before they can practice here. Now, applications will be processed by the ARDC rather than the Clerk’s office and require a completion of a simple, straightforward statement, which can be submitted electronically. The amendment will be filed shortly and take effect immediately.

New Style Manual Submitted for Approval. One final matter of note: Late this summer, Jacob Jost, the Report of Decisions, completed an important new revision to the Style Manual for the Supreme and Appellate Courts. The update is the first in over five years and includes both entirely new provisions and clarification of existing rules. The draft is currently under review by the members of the Court and its formal adoption will be taken up during the next term of Court in November.