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An Update on the Operations of the Illinois Courts

By: Chief Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier

September 24 , 2018

With the end of summer and the beginning of the Supreme Court’s next series of court terms, it’s a good time to review some significant recent developments affecting operation of the Illinois courts. 

Amendment to Oral Argument Rule Yields (Mostly) Good Results. In response to ongoing concerns that some districts of the appellate court were shortchanging litigants on their right to oral argument, our court recently amended Supreme Court Rule 352 to specify that a reviewing court shall exercise its power to dispose of cases without oral argument “only  upon the entry of a written order stating with specificity why such power is being exercised in the affected case” and that, “[n]otwithstanding the foregoing, oral argument shall be held in any case in which at least one member of the panel assigned to the case requests it.” 

This amendment took effect July 1, 2018. Although that was halfway through the most recent reporting period, oral argument statistics compiled by the Clerk of the Supreme Court suggest that the change is already beginning to have the desired effect in most districts of our appellate court. In the Fourth District, the improvement has been dramatic. Whereas oral argument was held in only 48.5% of the cases in which it was requested there during the reporting period ending in March of 2018, that figure had risen to 88.5% of cases by the end of the reporting period ending this month. With this increase, the Fourth District’s numbers actually surpassed those from the Fifth District, which has historically been most vigorous in honoring litigants’ requests for oral argument. The Second and Third Districts have also made advances: 51.1% in the Second District, up from 32.8% in March, and 50% in the Third District up from 46.2% in March. Unfortunately, numbers from the First District tell a different story. There, oral argument was held in only 9.8% of the cases in which it was requested, a significant decline from the already very low figure of 16.1% reported in March. Our court will be following up to address this disparity.

Underfunding Continues to Present Challenges.  As detailed in prior editions of Illinois Courts Connect, the legislature’s FY2019 appropriation for the judicial branch remains level for the fifth straight year, notwithstanding the substantial fixed and growing expenses that must be paid from the court’s budget. Significant prompt payment penalties related to delayed payment to vendors by the State have exacerbated the problem. As predicted, the resulting financial pressure has had the most serious effect on probation services. The Administrative Office currently projects that the projected statewide salary reimbursement for probation will only be 66%, resulting in serious hardship to many counties and undermining the efficacy of the probation system. As FY2019 moves forward, the Court expects to explore the possibility of supplemental appropriations to help make up for the shortfall.

Judicial Education Programs on the Horizon.  A couple of important programs related to judicial education have been finalized and will be coming up soon. On October 18 – 19, 2018, the new Illinois Judicial College will hold its second annual meeting in Lombard. The meeting will be devoted to development of curriculum and courses for judges, probation personnel, trial court administrators, guardians ad litem, circuit court clerks and judicial branch staff. On April 29 -30, the Appellate Court Conference will take place. This event will be a joint conference of Justices of the Supreme and Appellate Courts; clerks, law clerks, and legal staff of the Supreme and Appellate Courts; and the Office of the Reporter of Decisions. It will feature updates on civil and criminal law, trending issues in the appellate court, and guest presentations on standards of review and a comparative analysis of state and federal constitutional rights. There will also be a full-day legal writing workshop. 

Minimum Courtroom Standards Revised.  During the September Term, the Court adopted numerous recommended updates to its regulations governing minimum courtroom standards for Illinois trial court facilities. One particularly notable change – made to assure compliance with recent amendments to the Counties Code – is that on or before June 1, 2019, every facility that houses a circuit court courtroom will be required to include at least one lactation room or area, outside the confines of a restroom, where mothers may express breast milk in private.             

E-Filing Moves Forward With More Users and Fewer Problems.  The Director of the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts reports that, as of this month, our eFileIL system now has over 125,000 registered filers and 14 certified electronic filing service providers. All Illinois courts of review and 101 trial courts are active with the system. 

The number of filings on the system surpassed half-a-million for the month of August. The average length of time for filings to be accepted in the trial courts continues to drop, as does the percentage rejected for noncompliance. While progress has not been uniform from circuit to circuit (Cook County has presented unique challenges), local court staff, representatives of the Administrative Office and Tyler Technologies are cooperating in an effort to overcome remaining obstacles. In addition, our Access to Justice Commission is moving forward with new policies, procedures and guidelines to help insure that self-represented litigants are able to successfully navigate the new system.

Bicentennial of the Judiciary Gala to be Held October 9.  Finally, and on a lighter note, they are throwing us a party. By “us” I mean the judicial branch. By “they” I mean the Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission. The event, which commemorates the 200th anniversary of the appointment of the Supreme Court’s original four members, will be held at 6:30 p.m. October 9, 2018, at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield. Chicago attorney and noted author Scott Turow will be the keynote speaker. Tickets for the event are $150 each and may be obtained by contacting John Lupton at 217-670-0890 x1 or at john.lupton@illinoiscourthistory.org.   Black tie preferred. Seating is limited.