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Circuits Receive Grants to Improve Access for Self-represented Litigants

By: Jill E. Roberts, Senior Program Manager, Self-Represented Litigants, Access to Justice Division

November 27, 2018

Hundreds of litigants appear in the Illinois courts without an attorney every year. The growing number of self-represented litigants (SRL) in court is not unique to any one circuit, county, or case type. The vast majority of SRLs are not self-represented by choice: most would prefer legal representation, but are unable to find or afford an attorney. SRLs — many who have little or no prior experience with the judicial system — pose a number of challenges for circuit clerks, judges, court staff, and other litigants, as well as for themselves. 

To address these challenges, the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice (ATJ Commission) and the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts Access to Justice Division (AOIC) recognize, given the size and diversity of Illinois, that local partners are critical to fully understand and address the needs of the SRL population. The ATJ Commission and AOIC established a statewide network of court personnel to work collaboratively and creatively to identify new strategies for improving access to justice.

The goal of this project is to create, train, and support a statewide network of Self-Represented Litigant Coordinators (Coordinators) based in courthouses throughout the state. Coordinators serve as a bridge, linking their courthouses with others throughout the state to share ideas, develop new resources, and establish programs for assisting SRLs.

The project launched in late 2017 with nine judicial circuits receiving grant funds and four additional judicial circuits participating in the statewide Coordinator network. The first year of the program was a huge success from conducting training for public library self-help center staff to understand e-filing to establishing an early resolution divorce program. Over 25,000 self-represented individuals received help from our Coordinators in year one.

The selections for the second year of the program were just finalized. The ATJ Commission and AOIC have selected 10 judicial circuits to receive grants to support them in evaluating and addressing the evolving needs of self-represented litigants in their region of the state. The awardees are:

  1. First Judicial Circuit: Brenda Sprague will serve all nine counties in the circuit by working with a circuit-wide committee made up of court stakeholders and community members to discuss the needs of SRLs, providing professional training to legal professionals, the public, and SRLs, and increasing community awareness of available resources.
  2. Eighth Judicial Circuit: Jennifer Power will serve Adams Count by updating and staffing a self-represented litigant help desk and creating better signage and materials for SRLs.
  3. Tenth Judicial Circuit: Rena' Parker will serve Peoria County by launching an Online Dispute Resolution Program for family law cases to complete mandatory mediation.
  4. Twelfth Judicial Circuit: Jeane Fillipitch will serve Will County by translating self-help materials into Spanish and increasing interpreter access for non-courtroom events.
  5. Fifteenth Judicial Circuit: LeAnn Brandenburg will serve Lee, Ogle, and Stephenson counties by supervising Helen Doig, a resource person who staffs a resource room in those three counties and assists SRLs.
  6. Sixteenth Judicial Circuit: Halle Cox will serve Kane County by upgrading and strengthening SRL resources, translating materials into Spanish, expanding the "Lawyer in the Library" program, and training public librarians on basic legal research.
  7. Seventeenth Judicial Circuit: Brian Buzzard will serve both Winnebago and Boone Counties in circuit by re-imagining the self help center in Boone County as well as overseeing other projects to streamline e-filing, distributing mediation brochures, and continuing to develop the e-reminder project and pictogram flowcharts.
  8. Nineteenth Judicial Circuit: Beth Bogie will serve Lake County by helping to establish a pro se family law court call and creating an early resolution program for divorces.
  9. Twenty-First Judicial Circuit: Adrianne Haley will serve Kankakee County by obtaining a digital monitor to display courtroom information and other helpful court information.
  10. Twenty-Second Judicial Circuit: Susy Huffman will serve McHenry County by continuing their early resolution program for divorce cases where both sides are SRLs.

Please join us in congratulating this year's Coordinators and encouraging their efforts to make Illinois courts better, easier, and more accessible for self-represented litigants.