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Giving thanks to Access to Justice Champions


Giving thanks to Access to Justice Champions

By: Justice Mary K. Rochford, Chair of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice and the AOIC Access to Justice Division Staff

November 24, 2020

In 2020, we have been challenged in ways we never could have imagined. The impacts of the pandemic threatened access to justice but in the end, our court leadership and our dedicated partners pushed  forward to assure that the needs of the self-represented and limited English proficient litigants in our courts were met.

During this time of thanksgiving, we want to take a moment to 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; we could fill many, many newsletter columns highlighting the great work being done. But, for now, we highlight just a few access to justice champions:

Hon. Eugene J. Doherty, Chief Judge, 17th Judicial Circuit
Judge Doherty has been creatively tackling access to justice challenges for years. He was the driving force behind the 17th Circuit’s Residential Foreclosure Mediation Program, which is still helping homeowners retain their homes. More recently, he has been assisting Illinois courts continue to provide access to justice during the coronavirus pandemic as Vice Chair of the Court Operations During COVID-19 Task Force. As you enter his office, Judge Doherty has a conspicuous sign with a big strike through the phrase “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” He challenges the status quo and asks how the courts can evolve to further promote justice for all. Judge Doherty leads by example and is spearheading the implementation of the state’s first online dispute resolution program for traffic cases. Judge Doherty is innovative, compassionate, and the first to roll up his sleeves to get a task done. We are grateful for his continuing partnership and support. 

Josh Vincent, Partner, Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP
Josh has chaired the ATJ Commission’s Appellate Forms Subcommittee since 2015 and is a member of the ATJ Commission’s Free Legal Answers for Civil Appeals Advisory Committee. Josh has been instrumental in galvanizing the creation of various suites of civil appellate forms that SRLs can use to prosecute or defend an appeal. He also championed various programs for assisting SRLs in appeals across Illinois, including the creation of a virtual help desk for civil appeals that launched in September 2020. The Commission is grateful for Josh’s leadership and tireless work to sustain access to justice initiatives that directly impact SRLs attempting to navigate appeals in our state. 

Judge Sandra Parga, Associate Judge, 16th Judicial Circuit
A champion for ensuring all limited-English proficient litigants receive a skilled interpreter, Judge Parga has been a valuable partner since she joined the bench in Kane County three years ago. Serving as chair of the Language Access Strategic Planning subcommittee of the ATJ
Commission’s Language Access Committee, Judge Parga hosted our first language access stakeholder meeting in February. This event brought together judges, interpreters, court staff, probation, public defenders, state’s attorney, and clerks to learn about challenges Kane County was facing in providing language access to court users. We hope to replicate this meeting again in the future (when it is safe to do so!), as it served as a touchstone for evaluating improvements to language access services across the state.

Stacey Weiler & Jenna Kearns, Illinois Bar Foundation and Cortney Redman, Chicago Bar Foundation
One program that needed to turn on a dime to shift from providing entirely in-person services to remote services was Illinois JusticeCorps. There are 15 Illinois JusticeCorps Fellows across the state that are supervised by a trio of staff: Stacey, Jenna, and Cortney. All three stepped up to the plate to help the fellows modify their services starting in March with the onset of the pandemic. In addition, this summer they had the herculean effort of recruiting a current class of fellows to start a new program year with uncertainty of how and whether fellows would return to courthouses. Through their guidance and efforts, the Illinois JusticeCorps program has not missed a beat, and self-represented litigants are still being served through limited in-person assistance and a variety of remote measures.

Katie Blakeman, Champaign County Circuit Clerk
Katie has been a stellar access to justice ally in her role as Circuit Clerk. From being on the forefront of integrating with the e-filing system to ensuring an ADA accessible website, she also frequently holds expungement summits in Champaign County to help people clear their criminal records in order to have better access to housing and employment. Katie serves on the ATJ Commission’s Language Access Committee and as Chair of the Small Claims Forms Subcommittee. Katie recently joined the statewide Court Navigator Network when she secured a Self-Represented Litigant Coordinator grant from the ATJ Commission to launch a robust text message reminder system to ensure that people have the information they need to attend court.

Expungement Forms Subcommittee
This forms subcommittee has been hard at work creating plain language cannabis expungement forms in the wake of Illinois cannabis legalization. The subcommittee is composed entirely of volunteer subject matter experts who donated ample time toward drafting and perfecting this vital form suite. Once published, it will help self-represented litigants navigate the complex process of expunging existing cannabis records. These forms will undeniably increase access to justice for underrepresented populations. Thanks to all the subcommittee members for bringing these forms to life!
Subcommittee members are:

    1. Beth Johnson, Chair, Rights and Restoration Law Group, LLC, Cook County
    2. Judge Thomas Byrne, Cook County
    3. Aliyar Durrani, DuPage County
    4. Andrew May, Neal, Gerber, & Eisenberg, Cook County
    5. Anthony Lowery, SAFER, Cook County
    6. Arienne Jones, Assistant State’s Attorney Expungement Policy & Legal Advisor
    7. Arthur Surratt, Illinois Legal Aid Online
    8. Brandon Williams, Cabrini Green Legal Aid
    9. Courtney Kelledes, Rights and Restoration Law Group, Cook County
    10. Ginger Leigh Odom, Office of the State Appellate Defender
    11. Halle Cox, Law Librarian, Kane County
    12. Steve Fus, Pro Bono Attorney, Cook County