In Illinois, the circuit court is the court of original jurisdiction. There are 24 judicial circuits in the state, of which six are single county circuits (Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will). The circuit court shares jurisdiction with the Supreme Court to hear cases relating to revenue, mandamus, prohibition, and habeas corpus. If the Supreme Court chooses to exercise its authority in a case of these types, the circuit court loses jurisdiction. The circuit court is also the reviewing court for certain state agency administrative orders.
There are two types of judges in the circuit court: circuit judges and associate judges. Circuit judges are elected for a six-year term and may be retained by voters for additional six-year terms. They can hear any circuit court case. Circuit judges are initially elected either circuit-wide, from the county where they reside or from a sub-circuit within a circuit, depending on the type of vacancy they are filling.
Associate judges are appointed by circuit judges of that circuit, pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 39, for four-year terms. Associate Judges may not preside over criminal cases in which the defendant is charged with an offense punishable by imprisonment for one year or more (felonies), unless approval is received from the Supreme Court. Associate Judges are appointed by the Circuit Judges in accordance with Supreme Court rules for a four-year term.
Circuit judges in a circuit elect one of their members to serve as chief circuit court judge. The chief circuit judge has general administrative authority in the circuit, subject to the overall administrative authority of the Supreme Court. The chief judge can assign cases to general or specialized divisions within the circuit.
Circuit Court Administrative Matters
Conference of Chief Circuit Judges: The Conference of Chief Circuit Judges is comprised of the chief circuit judges from the twenty-four Illinois judicial circuits. Since January 2017, Judge David A. Hylla, Chief Judge of the Third Judicial Circuit, was elected by his peers to serve as Chair of the Conference. Judge Susan Clancy Boles, Chief Judge of the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit, was elected to serve as the Vice-Chair. The Conference meets regularly to discuss issues related to the administration of justice in the circuit courts and other matters referred to the Conference by the Supreme Court. The Administrative Office serves as secretary to the Conference.
Conference Committees and Activities: The Conference has several established committees which address particular issues, and provide information and recommendations. Conference Committees active during 2018 include the Article V Committee; Associate Judge Vacancy Committee; Children and Families Committee; Court Performance Metrics Committee; Criminal Procedure Committee; Evidenced- Based Pretrial Practices Committee; Executive Committee; Orientation Committee. During 2018, the Conference also established the Criminal Procedure Committee charged with reviewing issues related to rules or legislation relating to criminal justice. From time to time, the Conference may establish an ad hoc or special committee convened to study specific short-term subject matter such as the Conference’s Jury Representation Committee or the Special Committee to Review Standardized Forms.
These committees of the Conference considered topics in several areas. Early in the year, the Orientation Committee, along with staff from the Administrative Office, met with and provided five new Chief Circuit Judges with information and tools to help guide them in their new administrative role. The Associate Judge Vacancy Committee was asked to review and consider whether health related questions were appropriate for the Associate Judge application. The newly established Criminal Procedure Committee was asked to review whether a jury instruction was needed that defines reasonable doubt; and this committee was also to consider recommending new rules providing for trial courts to remedy simple calculation or clerical errors on sentencing orders rather than requiring appellate review. The Evidenced- Based Pretrial Practices Committee participated in a webinar attended by over 200 people and continued to discuss and review questions received relating new bail reform legislation. The Court Performance Metrics Committee undertook a study of collecting data on post-judgment activity for some limited case types, as this type of court activity is not being recorded or reported elsewhere. Ongoing throughout the year, the Committee to Review Standardized Forms disseminated to the Conference and sought review of many draft standardized court forms developed for use by the Commission on Access to Justice designed to aid self-represented litigants navigate the justice system. The Article V Committee review and recommended amendments to several Article V rules as a result of new legislation removing a requirement of a violator’s signature, and also began considering amendments needed to conform to the new Criminal and Traffic Assessment Act. The Executive Committee continued to review policies, issues and budget related to court reporting services; while the Children and Families Committee drafted and recommended a new form order related to the automatic expungement in certain juvenile cases. The Technology Committee provided updates on the work of the Supreme Court’s e-Business Policy Advisory Board, including status updates regarding the statewide e-filing program (eFileIL) and the development of a remote access policy. With assistance from the Administrative Office, the Jury Representation Committee concluded a six-month pilot program in five counties designed to study the representation in jury pools from some of the most diverse counties in the state through alternative summonsing procedures.
All of the many Conference committees continued to monitor and analyze new legislation, Supreme Court rules and policies relevant to the committee’s focus and the administration of justice in the trial courts as it is introduced and adopted.
Presentations to the Conference: In the interest of furthering the knowledge and skills of its members, the Conference hosted a variety of guest presentations focused on judicial and trial court issues. For example, the Supreme Court is changing the composition and role of Illinois Judicial Conference to be more focused on creating a Strategic Agenda. To that end, retired Justice Gene Schwarm, Project Coordinator of the strategic agenda efforts, appeared before the Conference multiple times explaining these efforts, including seeking the Conference’s assistance with the dissemination of a survey to judges and justice partners throughout the state. The new Director of DCFS appeared before the Conference to address new initiatives and changes occurring at their agency. Representatives from the Sentencing Policy Advisory Commission (SPAC) presented about their examination of sentencing policies and practices, and the fiscal implications of such sentencing practices, especially on the differences between probation versus incarceration. The Conference learned about the McHenry County Civil Justice Improvement Project from administrative staff in the 22nd Judicial Circuit, a grant funded project in collaboration with the National Center for State Courts; and lastly, the Special Supreme Court Committee on Mental Health and Justice Planning presented on and sought the Conference’s input on proposed rules regarding the issue of shackling respondents appearing in court for involuntary commitment proceedings.