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2017 Annual Report of the Illinois Courts Nears Completion

By: Chief Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier

July 23, 2018

Each year, the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts compiles an exhaustive, two volume report summarizing the work done by the Judicial Branch during the previous twelve months. This monumental undertaking is the product of countless hours of work by Administrative Office staff, working in cooperation with personnel from every level the court system. While seldom acknowledged and often underappreciated, the annual report is, in my view, the single most valuable resource for understanding how Illinois courts are organized, staffed and funded; the nature and volume of work we do; and the steps we are taking to improve administration of and access to critical judicial resources.

     
By custom, the Chief Justice provides a written message to accompany the report’s publication. As the annual report for 2017 nears completion, my attention has turned to this year’s message and the many things our branch of government has accomplished. Thanks to extensive assistance from staff at the Administrative Office, the message has been drafted and submitted for publication. 

 
My perception is that relatively few people end up reviewing the annual reports themselves. To help build awareness of the reports and their important contents, and because it may provide a useful update on the status of various initiatives reported in previous issues of this publication,  I thought I would use my column this month to give an advanced look at what my message for the 2017 report will say. I hope it encourages you to take a look at the annual report when it is issued later this year.  If you don’t have access to a printed copy, the report will be available online at http://www.illinoiscourts.gov/SupremeCourt/AnnReport.asp.

A Message from the Chief Justice

I am honored to present the 2017 Annual Report of the Illinois Courts. I join with my colleagues on the Illinois Supreme Court to inform citizens of the Court's ongoing efforts to promote efficiency, fairness and judicial transparency. The Illinois Supreme Court, assisted by the dedicated staff of our Administrative Office and the judges and staff members serving our unified court system, works to uphold individual rights and liberties, to promote the impartial interpretation of the law, and to deliver equal justice in all matters brought before our courts.


This Report has been updated for 2017. Among the changes are a redesigned look to make it more visually appealing and a streamlined format in one volume instead of two. The most popular pages from the Statistical Summary will be combined with the Administrative Summary to create the new single volume Annual Report. The remaining items from the Statistical Summary will be published as they become available on the Supreme Court's website. This will allow for more frequent updates and provide flexibility for future content without increasing costs.


The Administrative Summary serves to acquaint the public with the officers and employees of the Illinois Supreme, Appellate, and Circuit Courts in order to promote a better understanding of the judicial branch and its role as the third branch of government. The previous information included in the Summary will continue. This includes the Supreme Court's Report to the General Assembly on the activities of the Illinois Judicial Conference, information on state and local funding for the courts and details on the operations of our unified court system.

During 2017, the Court continued its active involvement in the efforts to enhance the judicial branch's relationship with the other branches of state government and with the public we serve.

The Court hosted a Law School for Legislators on May 9 at the Supreme Court Building in Springfield. The event was intended to familiarize the legislative branch with court operations and to foster dialogue of communication, cooperation and coordination between the legislative and judicial branches. I am also pleased to report that the Court scheduled a special session of oral arguments for the March 2018 Term at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. Several hundred local students were invited to attend. The goal of this special session was to provide the public with greater transparency in the judicial process.

I will highlight below some of the judicial branch's major accomplishments in 2017. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues on ways to improve the Illinois court system.


Mandatory E-Filing in Civil Cases

In 2017, the Court approved amendments to the January 22, 2016 e-filing Order, with the goal of further facilitating the Illinois courts' statewide move to an electronic filing system. The amendments addressed court and vendor fees, incarcerated pro se litigants, migration of counties with stand-alone e-filing systems, a statewide remote access system and criminal e-filing. The Court also amended Supreme Court Rule 9(c)(4) to allow self-represented litigants to file a good cause exemption from the e-filing requirement.

Mandatory, statewide e-filing ensures efficiency, consistency, and fairness. For attorneys and self-represented litigants alike, mandatory e-filing means no more running to the Clerk's Office to file a document before the close of business or to the post office to make sure that a filing is postmarked on time. Because e-filing may be done at any hour and from any location, access to the court will be more convenient for all.


Adoption of Statewide Policy Statement on Pretrial Services and Formation of Pretrial Practices Commission

The Court adopted a statewide policy statement for pretrial services. This policy statement seeks to serve as a guide for all of our trial courts. The goal of pretrial services is to reduce the pretrial incarceration rate while ensuring that defendants comply with approved pretrial release. This process includes the application of a validated pretrial risk assessment tool which aids judges in making research-based decisions about whether defendants should be detained or released prior to their criminal trials. The statewide policy statement is a continuation of the advancement of pretrial services in Illinois and is available on the Court website at http://www.illinoiscourts.gov/Media/enews/2017/052517_SC_adopts_policy.asp.
The Court also approved the formation of a commission to provide guidance and recommendations regarding pretrial reform in the Illinois criminal justice system. The Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Pretrial Practices will conduct a comprehensive review of the Illinois pretrial detention system and will make recommendations for change. This will include studying the fiscal impact of such changes on the county and state level. The Commission shall seek to ensure a fair, efficient, transparent, accountable and adequately-sourced system of pretrial services which includes the use of evidence-based practices and shall develop an operational structure that is guided by the National Institute of Corrections' Essential Elements of a High Functioning Pretrial System and Agency.


Illinois Becomes 1st State to Adopt Proactive Management Based Regulation

In 2017, the Court announced the adoption of new rules governing the legal profession in Illinois. The changes are intended to help minimize risks that lawyers face in the private practice of law. In doing so, Illinois became the first state in the nation to adopt Proactive Management Based Regulation (PMBR). The rule changes were based upon a multi-year study of PMBR initiatives in the United States and other countries, and after consultation with key Illinois stakeholders, including bar associations. Under the Illinois PMBR model, lawyers in private practice must consider establishing mechanisms and protocols to avoid the filing of disciplinary grievances and malpractice claims. Beginning in 2018, Illinois attorneys in private practice who do not have malpractice insurance must complete a four hour interactive, online self-assessment regarding the operation of their law firm. This self-assessment will require lawyers to demonstrate that they have reviewed the operations of their firm based upon both lawyer ethics rules and best business practices. The program will be administered by the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC), the Illinois Supreme Court agency that regulates lawyers. Following a lawyer’s self-assessment, the ARDC will provide the lawyer with a list of resources to improve those practices that are identified during the self-assessment.


Judicial Decision-Making Study

In 2017, the Court announced findings from a judicial decision-making study undertaken by the Supreme Court Committee on Equality. The statewide online study was developed and analyzed by the American Bar Foundation with researchers Dr. Andrea Miller and Dr. Robert Nelson. The study was designed to analyze various approaches to judicial decision-making and the considerations that influence outcomes of those decisions, including race, gender, poverty, and legal representation in criminal, civil and family law cases. An online questionnaire involving hypothetical court cases assessing judicial decision-making in different areas of law was first distributed in November 2016 with data collection from all circuit courts concluding in April 2017. In all, 619 of the 901 circuit court judges in Illinois completed the survey. The results of the survey found that implicit biases, which are distinguishable from overt biases, are present and impact outcomes depending on the race, gender, poverty and legal representation status of the hypothetical parties.

Additionally, factors such as adverse working conditions were found to have a potential affect on judges' ability to deliver consistent, unbiased decisions. Enlightened with these findings, the Committee on Equality will solicit feedback on the results and will work with the Administrative Office, the Conference of Chief Circuit Judges, the Illinois Judicial College, the Illinois Supreme Court Illinois Judicial Conference Committee on Strategic Planning and the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice to coordinate ongoing judicial education around the state to help judges incorporate anti-bias ideas and procedures into judicial decision-making.


Supreme Court Amends Rule on Minimum Continuing Legal Education Requirement

During 2017, the Court approved changes to a rule impacting the requirements for continuing legal education (CLE) in Illinois. Under amended Supreme Court Rule 794(d), all Illinois lawyers are required to complete one hour of diversity and inclusion CLE and one hour of mental health and substance abuse CLE as part of their Professional Responsibility CLE requirement. The amendment does not affect the total number of hours required to fulfill the professional responsibility requirement or the total number of CLE credits required in each two-year reporting period. Lawyers may alternatively continue to fulfill the required six hours of Professional Responsibility CLE by completing the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism’s Lawyer-to-Lawyer Mentoring Program, as set forth in Illinois Supreme Court Rule 795(d)(11). The rule change went into effect on July 1, 2017, and begins with attorneys with the two-year reporting period ending June 30, 2019. Requiring diversity and mental health CLE places Illinois at the forefront of a national movement.


Supreme Court Announces Over 100 Appointees to 6 Judicial College Committees

The Illinois Supreme Court announced in 2017 appointees to the six standing committees of the Judicial College. The committees, which will develop curricula for the Judicial College, are Probation Education, Trial Court Administrator Education, Circuit Clerk Education, Guardian ad litem Education, Judicial Branch Staff Education, and Judicial Education. Established in January 2016, the Judicial College is designed to provide comprehensive and multidisciplinary educational programs and professional development training to the state's judges and judicial branch employees. This will include identifying opportunities to enhance the efficient and effective administration of justice. Inaugural members of the standing committees will serve varied staggered terms.


Creation of New Rule Regarding Jury Trials in Involuntary Admission Proceedings and Standardized Mental Health Orders

The Court approved Supreme Court Rule 293, which requires trial courts to commence a jury trial if requested by a respondent in an involuntary admission proceeding under the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Code within 30 days of the request. Rule 293, proposed by the Special Supreme Court Advisory Committee for Justice and Mental Health Planning, was adopted to clarify the time limitation which a trial court has to convene a jury in a mental health involuntary commitment hearing and to make that time requirement mandatory.


The Court also approved four standardized mental health orders and a uniform Illinois State Police order related to such proceedings. The adoption of standardized and uniform orders throughout the entire state will assist judges who routinely hear mental health cases to make clear, concise and complete findings of fact on the record. It also provides guidelines to judges who may lack experience in these types of cases.

Conclusion

The accomplishments detailed above represent only a few of the initiatives undertaken by the Illinois courts in 2017. I encourage you to review the 2017 Annual Report, which provides further information about the functions and activities of the judicial branch.

On a final note, I would like to offer my sincere appreciation to everyone in the judicial branch who helped make 2017 a productive year. It takes a lot of dedication and hard work to make the Illinois court system operate with a high level of integrity and efficiency. I look forward to another year of achievement and improvements in our courts.