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Spotlighting a Few Access to Justice Champions

By: Hon. Mary K. Rochford, Chair, Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice and Danielle Hirsch, Assistant Director, Civil Justice Division, Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts

July 23, 2018

Last year, during one of our summer newsletter columns, the ATJ Commission celebrated a number of wonderful partners who help to make up the incredibly vibrant and engaged access to justice community in Illinois. With that list, we only began to scratch the surface of all of the volunteers we’d love to recognize. And so, we’ve decided to make this an annual tradition of recognizing some of the incredible leaders and volunteers we have the good fortune of working with.

This is the 2018 list of Access to Justice (ATJ) Champions:

  • Alicia Aiken, Director, Confidentiality Institute

Alicia is the Director of the Confidentiality Institute, who has worked with the ATJ Commission to offer judicial and court partner trainings many times over the past several years. In particular, we work with Alicia to offer poverty simulation exercises with judges, circuit clerks, court staff, probation officers and treatment providers. Alicia has worked with us to develop several court-specific poverty simulations, which have all been important in fostering empathy and awareness of the many challenges faced by those among us living in poverty.  Alicia, thank you for being a part of our work!

  • Hon. Michael A. Fiello, First Judicial Circuit

Judge Fiello has been a vital part of the ATJ Commission since its founding in 2012, especially in the area of standardized forms. Since its inception, Judge Fiello has been a co-chair of the ATJ Commission Standardized Forms Committee, as well as the chair of the Divorce Forms Committee. He has spent countless hours drafting and revising forms to ensure that they are written in plain and understandable language, while also guaranteeing that they are legally sufficient. This year, the ATJ Commission Forms Committee released its Divorce Without Children suite of forms, which represented an incredible amount of work (especially since the law changed mid-way through this process, and Judge Fiello and his committee had to re-draft). These forms are hugely important to many self-represented litigants across the State and we appreciate all that Judge Fiello has done and continues to do to support this work. Kudos, Judge Fiello!

  • Kathy Keefe, Circuit Clerk, McHenry County 

Kathy is an incredible circuit clerk, who is well-organized and passionate about ensuring access to justice in her community. This year, we recently discovered that Kathy and her staff have launched a pilot project that allows litigants to receive either email or text reminders of upcoming court dates. She launched this program with little fanfare, despite its innovation, and we celebrate Kathy for all that she does. Thanks for all that you do, Kathy!

  • Caroline Manley, Center for Disability and Elder Law

Together with Judge Thomas Donnelly, Steve Pflaum and many others, Caroline has been working tirelessly to develop a new Supreme Court Rule—soon to be SCR 280, as of October 1—that will standardize pleading requirements in certain types of debt collection cases. This new rule has been in development for several years, and Caroline led a coalition of civil legal aid advocates, members of the creditors’ bar and judges to come to consensus, This ultimate proposal was only possible because of Caroline’s dedication. New Supreme Court Rule 280 will lower barriers and increase access to justice for debtor litigants across the State, and we are so grateful to Caroline for her hard work. Thanks, Caroline!  

  • Will Scanlon, Trial Court Administrator, 11th Judicial Circuit

Will is an innovative and bold trial court administrator, who embraces innovation and experimentation. Will enthusiastically championed Illinois JusticeCorps, and served as our “point person” in our first site in Bloomington when the program first launched almost six years ago; and he still remains our local site supervisor today. The ATJ Commission and AOIC are in the midst of a Video Remote Interpreter (“VRI”) pilot, where local courts engage qualified interpreters who provide needed interpretation remotely via phone or videoconference. Will has been supportive of this project, and it seems fitting that the 11th Judicial Circuit was our first VRI hearing in the State because of Will’s leadership. Thank you for being part of our work, Will!

  • Brenda Sprague, Administrative Assistant, First Judicial Circuit

This year, the ATJ Commission launched a new program called the Self-Represented Litigant Coordinators, which fosters a statewide network of trial court staff to address the evolving needs of self-represented litigants through the trial courts. The ATJ Commission has been working with “Coordinators” from thirteen circuits to share ideas, develop new resources and establish programs for assisting self-represented litigants. While all of the Coordinators have been wonderful, we wanted to highlight the great work of Brenda Sprague, Administrative Assistant in the First Judicial Circuit. The First Judicial Circuit is vast, and Brenda has done a great job of trying to spread the word about available self-help resources by engaging local media, partnering with local public libraries and court staff. Brenda is dedicated and engaged, and the ATJ Commission is so delighted to have her as part of our inaugural Coordinator class. Brenda, we 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.