Thank you Jim – Mr. President – for that nice introduction. And thank you for your tireless efforts throughout your term as Bar President. In addition to your emphasis on Continuing Education, you will be remembered as the President who, even after successfully running for office, like Forest Gump, just kept on running.
When I became Chief Judge a little more than one year ago, one of my early duties was to prepare for the State of the Courthouse luncheon. I was concerned that there was really not very much for me to say, and I frankly doubted anyone would be very interested. I now recognize that there are a great number of events, and constantly changing plans affecting the Courthouse. So, it is my sincere pleasure to welcome you to the DuPage County Bar Association’s annual "State of the Courthouse" presentation.
I thought about asking Pat Edgerton to help me today, because construction is one of the important topics I wish to discuss. I know that "Masterbuilder" was only a product of the imagination of the Judges’ Night writers, but I sometimes feel he snuck out of many of my meetings just before I walked in – like he had done a "warm-up act" just to get everyone agitated.
There is something about a construction project that brings out the self-interest in us all. However, in the final analysis, there is a finite amount of money and space, and everyone does pretty well understanding that we have a responsibility to the users of the Court facilities, both today and for the next 25 years, to plan ahead and make good decisions.
Before I bring you current on the construction news, I wanted to follow up on some of the projects that were discussed last year at this time. Happily, I can report that most have come to successful conclusions.
On February 22, 2002, I signed an employment contract with AFSME on behalf of our Probation and Court Services officers, effective back to January 1, 2000. To their credit, everyone in Probation has been diligently doing their jobs, and they have not allowed the contract process to be a major distraction. Two of the programs recently implemented are good examples:
The Single Source DUI Evaluation Program is doing extremely well. They are virtually current. You will get an appointment within days of your request, and the report will be available a day or two thereafter. The evaluation report that Probation and our Judges have designed has received statewide attention. I recently met with a representative of the Illinois Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, who asked permission to show what he called "The DuPage Model" to other programs across the State. Since then, three other Circuits have asked to come and see it.
On many occasions I have applauded our Juvenile Detention Youth Home for its excellent staff and programming. I recently learned that the "DuPage Model" developed by the Youth Home has received national acclaim. Earl Dunlap, the Executive Director of the National Juvenile Detention Association, was quoted to say that "DuPage’s advanced programming and leadership in bringing change to detention by normalizing living conditions for residents has made it a national leader." Two weeks ago Champaign County sent 14 staff members here for training, and will be implementing our program. Vermillion County has expressed interest as well. I take this opportunity to congratulate Director John Bentley, and Youth Home Superintendent Bernie Glos and his excellent and dedicated staff.
Last year I reported that we were in a holding pattern concerning CourtSmart expansion. We had 15 courts on line, and were negotiating for another 10. In July of 2001, we agreed to terms, subsequently signed contracts, and on November 26, 2001, we activated Chancery and Misdemeanor courtrooms, bringing our total to 24.
Other than Small Claims and Traffic Court, we became courts of record in all our courtrooms. That means no more expense for hiring outside reporters, and no more struggling to designate a bystander’s record. I think a record is something we as a court system owe our users, and I am proud of our ability to do so.
An improvement like CourtSmart doesn’t just happen. As with all progress, it struggles against inertia, and requires people of vision and dedication to take the responsibility to make it work. Geri Barnes became our Administrator of Court Reporting Services in March of 1998. Two months later she was told we were going to implement electronic recordation in some of our courtrooms. Against her personal feelings, but armed with Chief Judge Galasso’s commitment that no court reporter would loose her job to a machine, she stayed on as Administrator.
Looking back now, I can honestly say that it is because of her commitment and tireless work that we have the finest electronic recording and record transcription system in the State, and perhaps in the country. Each of our professional reporters is outstanding, accepting full rotation and Courtsmart assignments to produce high quality transcripts in a reasonable time frame. Just as before, when they certify a transcript, you are assured of a quality product. So I take this opportunity to thank Geri and all the professional reporters working with us.
Another event that should be mentioned is the retirement of our Trial Court Administrator of 13 years – Bob Fiscella. His service and dedication are unparalleled and we will miss his steady judgment and work ethic. However, after a national search, we did find a worthy successor. Gary Dodge joined us March 13, 2001. He comes here after 8 years as the Administrator in Springfield. He has had no trouble adapting to our system, and has dug right in on the many problems that come up daily. We consider ourselves fortunate to have him.
On April 15th, Elizabeth Cooper, our new librarian joined the staff. She comes to us from Loyola Law School, where she served as a reference librarian and a first year research instructor since 1996. She earned her Masters of Library Science from the University of Chicago, a law degree from the University of Wisconsin, and is very adept and at home in a modern law library. We are counting on her to help us through the transition to more electronic research tools, as well as the difficult construction period. I know she will be a wonderful resource for you. If you haven’t met Gary or Elizabeth yet, please stop in and say hi. I know they will both be very happy to meet you.
The County is moving ahead in a number of areas of technology:
The Circuit Clerk has been operating his case management system on the county’s mainframe computer continuously since 1981. In 1997 he approached the County Board with a plan to develop a new case management system, and partnered with IBM to do so. They have completed the new system’s software, and have installed it on mid-range computers that are much easier to reprogram. The new system will permit users to access reports and statistics unavailable on the old system.
Installation of new civil files began in January of this year, and the conversion of all civil files will be concluded by early this summer. Once the program has been in operation for a while, and necessary corrections have been made, the Clerk and County IT (Information Technology) Department will complete plans to convert the criminal files. Hopefully by the end of the year we will have the integrated system that the title DUCS, DuPage Unified Court System, implies.
With DUCS comes an easier transition to e-filing. Although the Illinois Supreme Court has not yet cleared e-filing, except as a Cook County pilot program involving Orders of Protection, I think it is a concept whose time has arrived. We will continue to work with the Bar Association and Circuit Clerk to design an e-filing system that is right for us, and we plan to be ready when the Supreme Court gives us the green light.
An improvement recently undertaken by the County IT Department is the upgrading of the Court’s computer network system. This will mean state-of-the-art Internet communication and research access, and instantaneous DUCS access from all of the court’s computer terminals. It will bring us one step closer to realizing our vision of full access to the Clerk’s file management system, and the creation of computer-generated court orders, in every courtroom. We will again look to you, as users, to help us design an effective system.
An improvement that you criminal lawyers will especially appreciate is planned to begin in June. We have worked with technology experts to design a video bond court system to operate between the County jail and Court. Prisoners will go to a video room in the secure area of the jail, without the need to be searched. There they will appear before the judge, in the presence of attorneys and interested members of the public located in Courtroom 2002, by means of two-way audio-video conferencing equipment.
When the need arises, a private connection will be available to a defense attorney to speak to his client in confidence. We anticipate this system will be much quicker, involve far fewer deputy hours, and have none of the security issues currently presented. We will avoid the time conflict with the Small Claims call, and when construction closes courtroom 1000, as it will, we will be able to continue with Bond Court uninterrupted.
If this system proves as good as we anticipate, we will expand it to all of the criminal courts, and handle non-critical continuances and status calls through video conferencing. Aside from the obvious benefit to the Sheriff in saved deputy time transporting prisoners, and security benefits, think what this will mean to the defense bar.
Rather than waiting literally hours for your client to be transported, you need only wait minutes for him to appear on the conference screen. We are just beginning to develop protocols for this video conferencing system, and will be talking with you through the Bar Association’s Criminal Law and Executive Committees as plans progress.
In preparing for today, I was interested to learn the current statistics on case filings. Last year showed a slowing of filing increases, and even reductions in some type cases. From talking to Judges and attorneys around the Courthouse, it was my impression that filings were up in 2001. Now armed with the statistics, I see that it is true.
Total House Court case filings were up in 2001 by 4.6%, from 43,108 to 45,094. The biggest relative increases were seen in the civil area, with Law up 24%, Chancery up 18%, and Arbitration up 10%. Interestingly, Domestic Relations and Misdemeanors filings were down about 3%, while Felony and DUI filings were up about 5%.
Traffic case filings increased about 4%, from 178,708 to 185,677. As those of you who go to field court know, we are nearing capacity on many days. Were it not for the mail-in supervision program, field courts would have to contend with another 80,000 cases.
In spite of these increasing numbers, no dramatic Judicial Assignment changes are planned in the immediate future. As you know we made regular changes this past January. Those changes occurred in response to our belief that judges tend to need relief from certain assignments after three years, and they must have someplace to go.
Our rotation system moved roughly one-half the Associate Judges in January of 2001, and the other half changed in January of 2002. Other than movement caused by retirement, no changes are planned until January of 2004.
We were delighted to welcome new Associate Judges George Sotos on April 19th, and Blanche Fawell on October 18th of last year. Unfortunately, George has been on the Disabled List until just recently. He broke his hip playing soccer with his daughters. When that healed, he found it was necessary to have the hip replaced. He is back at work now, and is doing fine.
Our Court System continues to devote most of its resources to serve its primary purpose – to resolve disputes through litigation. For many years, that was the only official work of our court system. Over time there has been continuing pressure to focus on special problems with additional resources and services. As a result, we have developed a number of specialty courts.
We hope soon to expand Expedited Child Support Hearings, where Tony Mannina is doing a great job. He conducts conferences in Public Aid cases with estranged mothers and fathers in an effort to get them to agree on support payments for their children. If unsuccessful, the case goes before Judge Mitton for a formal hearing. Since the beginning of 2001, Tony has heard 438 cases. Less than 5% have been passed on to court. He is either really good, or really scary.
Family Court combines Juvenile court with related criminal and divorce cases. This gives the Judge more knowledge about the family situation, and reduces the number of court dates the family members must attend.
Domestic Violence Court presents a focused and consistent approach to those issues.
Within the next several weeks we will be adding a Coordinator to our Drug Court Program. Judge Jorgensen hopes to include many more defendants in this program designed to help break the cycle of drug use and criminal activity by means of close judicial supervision and treatment.
As I mentioned last year, our Judges adopted a Strategic Plan in 1999. Our Vision Statement is "To provide an impartial, fair, independent, and accessible process by which to resolve legal disputes in a timely, efficient and respectful manner." Consistent with that plan, we welcome the opportunity to evaluate new and different proposals designed to help all litigants and lawyers achieve this end.
But beyond the process is the perception. We realize that if we don’t actively earn the respect, and preserve the right to exercise authority over each segment of society, we may win the battle and still loose the war. To that end we welcome school group tours every week. We gladly sponsor and participate in seminars, high school and college mock trials and moot court competitions. We have a Judicial Speakers Committee that will send a Judge to speak at most any event.
We are evaluating becoming involved with the Bar Association in neighborhood programs that seek to educate some of our culturally diverse citizens, to help them avoid continuing involvement with the courts. We want not only to do a good job, but have everyone recognize that we are doing a good job as well.
And that brings me back to the topic of facilities construction. The completed campus is still anticipated to look as I showed you last year. Last year I outlined four areas of anticipated activity – the east entrance portico, the changes in parking lot access on the east, the construction of the office annex building and underground parking, and internal changes in the 505 building - the Judicial Office Facility. The first two have been completed, and the other two have a long way to go.
The obvious outside change you will see when you arrive at the County Complex is the construction of the new office annex building. We had a groundbreaking ceremony on November 27, 2001. Construction began in January, and the building is due to be completed in October of 2003. It is currently one month ahead of schedule.
Within the next month, construction will begin to expand the cafeteria area on the south end of the building. By enclosing an additional 5,000 square feet, there will be enough room to relocate the Jury Commission on the east, and the redesigned cafeteria on the west. Access to the annex will run along next to the cafeteria. During construction, the Cafeteria will continue to offer sandwiches and light lunches from mobile stations in the hallway. We hope construction will allow us to move the Jury Commission by the end of the summer.
Present plans include renovating the vacated Jury Commission space for Small Claims court, but there are several competing interests, and a final decision is yet to be made. The County Board is thinking about building a Federal Courtroom in some of the vacated space, and of locating a Shoe Shine Stand staffed by people from the Convalescent Home under the escalators on the first floor.
The connecting bridge on the second floor will come into the 505 building through the Library. Sometime around Thanksgiving, the contractor will be ready to break through the outer wall and construct the bridge connection. Before that time, a screening wall will be built dividing the space, creating a temporary library in the east one-third of the existing space.
A service counter, copy machine, the most often used book collections, and the eight Internet research terminals will be available in that area during construction. By then, the computer network improvements will be complete. Internet access should be efficient and extremely fast, correcting those problems that exist to some degree in the library today.
After a construction period of approximately 5 months, the law library will reopen. It will incorporate the tables and sitting area along the windowed south end of the building, and comprise about two-thirds of the present space. Given our planned reduction in perhaps one-half of the bound volumes, and our commitment to Internet research, we feel the space will be more than adequate for our needs for the foreseeable future.
Once the Public Defender moves to the new building, the County is building two new criminal courtrooms in that area of the fourth floor.
One thing I did not anticipate as I outlined things we would be doing this year, was September 11th, and the way it would literally crush our complacency. Aside from the grief and compassion we felt for those who took the brunt of the attack, it forced everyone in public life to think of SECURITY in capital letters when planning to build or modify public facilities.
The County has been very responsible, even hiring an additional security expert to review all plans in light of the times of heightened risk. We will be taking additional measures as a result of his recommendations. But, as we all know, it is what our own people think that is really important.
All attorneys and employees coming into the building for a week or so after September 11th, were inconvenienced by the denial of building pass access, and had to stand in line with the rest of the public. It was not that we expected any of our pass-carrying public to bring in a bomb under Bin Laden’s orders. Rather, we felt it was a time for solidarity and a show of security. We wanted to dissuade any copycat malcontent or unhappy litigant from creating some security breach and then using the media attention, which was sure to follow, to advance some special interest cause.
As is often the case in times of trouble, you all responded brilliantly. I received the complaint of only one attorney, who put his own time pressure ahead of the community crisis. Oh, and there was Joe Mirabella, who made an appointment to come to see me on September 13th. I’ve known Joe for over 30 years, and I couldn’t believe he would complain about standing in line - and he didn’t. He came to ask that we correct the oversight of having no American flag flying on the east side of the building. We put that temporary flag on the roof of the portico because of Joe’s request. The three new flagpoles out front are due, in great measure, to his sense of patriotism. While there is no plaque of recognition, believe me when I tell you, those are Joe’s flags.
And so, Mr. President, you ask me to give you my take on the State of the Courthouse: Although for a time it will be noisy, and dusty, and we all may be a little more wary, from my perspective, it still looks pretty good.