Thank you, President Ramsell. I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you today. I also appreciate that for the first time this event is being co-sponsored by the DCBA, DAWL, Justinians, Criminal Defense Lawyers, and Celtic Bar Associations. I never recognized you as the great peacemaker before. Congratulations Don, and thanks to all of the coalition presidents as well.
I want to take this chance to recognize each of you for your hard work while in office and for your friendship and assistance with the business of the court. Until someone takes on the responsibility of a presidency, they really don’t understand the different kind of problems they are likely to face. I congratulate each of you for taking on the challenge, and for a job well done.
One of the biggest differences I have noticed over the past two years is that as chief judge, I do very little that relates to the law or to lawyers. As a trial judge I was able to talk to and work with many lawyers each day. Now I have no regular court call, and I miss that contact. I may be one of the few people who actually like listening to lawyers talk – even George Avgeris. Go figure.
As I prepared for today’s presentation, I tried to think of information that would be interesting to members of the bar.
1. There are some interesting new legislative initiatives in Springfield this session, and I thought you might want to hear what most of us think about at least one of them.
2. I imagine you would like to know what on earth we were thinking when we decided to create a Special Services Division, and promote a Drug Court and a Mental Health Court – and I’ll cover that, too.
3. I understood you would wonder what effect the county and state budget problems will have on our daily court activities – and I will give you my best guess.
4. I knew you would like to be updated on our many construction projects – and I will try to do that as well.
You may have heard about SB75 and HB320 that identify DuPage County, among others, as a place where sub circuits would look nice. As presently drafted, the county would be divided into six, or nine sub circuits by the legislature. Beginning in 2006, three or four new judges would be elected from different sub circuits. Then as each current judicial term expires, that judgeship would be assigned to a sub circuit.
As every judge must live in the sub circuit of election, it is not clear whether a judge may have to move to retain the judgeship. What is clear is that the political influence of local committeemen will be far more important than any bar poll or lawyer’s opinion about a candidate’s qualifications.
I guess after the wonderful jurisprudential successes experienced in Cook County, the legislature’s new majority wanted us to enjoy a more representative judiciary – for instance, one that represents lawyers with less than one year of legal experience. As there has been no logical reason given, this whole concept seems to come under the category of "because we can."
WHAT WERE WE THINKING?
I became a lawyer in 1970. I appeared regularly in court doing the business of the People under Doc Hopf, our State’s Attorney. At that time I had the very narrow view that the court’s function was to resolve disputes. I knew the prosecutor’s office had discretion to charge or not to charge. I knew that diversion programs might work, but I never anticipated the court’s involvement in implementing any of those programs.
I became a judge in 1991. I sat regularly in the Law Division, ruling on motions and hearing 20 or so jury trials each year – doing the court’s business of resolving disputes. Diversion programs of Arbitration and Mediation were standard and gaining support. I initially felt a good pre-trial conference was just as effective, but I had no problem with these alternative concepts.
On the criminal side, I could see the pressures developing to force the court system into a new role – one responsible to fix society’s wrongs in light of the vacuum created by the decline in the influences of social institutions such as the family and the church.
When you think about it, we have come a long way along that road. Society recognizes a problem and demands that the legislature pass a law against it. The court system is then expected to cure the problem by punishing those who violate the law – thereby modifying the behavior and preventing its reoccurrence.
But we in the judicial system are the first to acknowledge that punishment rarely accomplishes that goal. The social sciences tell us that to modify behavior we must address the causes for that conduct. Things like mental illness, drug abuse, poor self esteem and a lack of anger management are identified as causes, and must be addressed if the court is to meet its goal of making the public obey the law.
I became Chief Judge in 2001, and came to understand how much our court system has tried to reinvent itself to meet these challenges. We have designed specialty courts in an effort to better deal with special problems.
For instance, we train our judges to understand that while domestic violence may be a battery, all batteries are not domestic violence. Most batteries are isolated problems, but domestic violence is usually a part of a "cycle of violence". The court is trained not to listen when the complaining witness asks to drop charges. Indeed we are encouraged to force testimony sometimes against the will of some witnesses – for their own good.
Not all judges have been uniform in their approach to these issues. The court system has responded to pressure from law enforcement, and scientific and public opinion by creating the Domestic Violence Court, and assigning a judge who was trained in these philosophies.
We have created a new division – Special Services – for these same reasons. The three judges who will work in that division are especially sensitive to the interpersonal dynamics that give rise to orders of protection, and they hear that call. They conduct the Video Bond Court sessions and bring uniformity to the standards relied upon in that area as well.
Institutionally, we feel justice is better served. As I look closely at the appearances we create, part of me worries we have compromised our image of impartiality – and maybe diluted our claim to equally representing all segments of the public. Is a defendant charged with domestic violence in this setting equally confident that his or her presumption of innocence will be honored? I think so, but as I said, part of me is concerned.
As you can tell from these confessions, I tend to be a judicial traditionalist. But since becoming Chief Judge I am forced to look at the whole system, rather than at one case at a time. And though traditional, I am also pragmatic. I see the futility of continuing to just clean up after our problems, rather than trying to prevent them. And I see the expensive futility of warehousing prisoners without first trying to modify the behavior that brought them to the court’s attention.
Consistent with this judicial philosophy, your court system has created a number of specialty courts in an effort to make a difference. We have Family Court and Non-support Court that, along with Domestic Violence Court and Juvenile Court, join in addressing the many criminal, economic and social problems that spring from formal and informal family environments.
The recognition that mental illness and drug abuse turn lawful citizens into criminals under our present criminal justice system has recently led to the specialty court approach to those two problems. Punishment won’t cure schizophrenia. It won’t cure heroin addiction.
With that in mind, we have created court-sanctioned diversion programs supervised and administered by the court. These programs use the court’s authority to intimidate defendants to go to counseling, and avoid illegal drugs, and to take their prescribed medication. We do this as conditions of bond, prior to any conviction, in an effort to turn defendants’ lives away from criminal conduct. We have virtually created basic legislative changes in the criminal law.
These programs have the potential for real benefit – that goes without question. But by stepping into the legislative arena and away from the traditional judicial role, we may be compromising our authenticity as impartial arbiters. I fear for our duty to preserve the public’s respect for an impartial judicial system, by appearing to become advocates rather than blindfolded Lady Justice with a balance scale.
I find these issues challenging and exciting, and I often struggle as we consider each suggestion for change. So far, I am convinced we have not crossed over the line. I hope you will continue to support these efforts and help us make a difference in some of these defendants’ lives. I thank Judge Sexton, Judge Pierce, Judge Sotos, Judge Dockery and Judge Jorgensen for their tireless efforts in these areas.
My job is exciting for the changes technology provides as well. Courtsmart electronic court reporting continues to work extremely well – thanks to its Administrator Geri Barnes and all of our professional reporters who have adopted it as their own and made it work. Forgive me for bragging about them, but we have the best transcription system in the state, and the thanks of our Appellate Court to prove it.
The Circuit Clerk’s unified computer system – DUCS – continues implementation, and should be fully operational by the end of the year. Those of us using it find it immeasurably better than the 22 year-old mainframe technology it is replacing.
We have finally received information from the State concerning our application for an e-filing pilot program. Within the next six weeks we will complete the application process. We will then call a meeting of the Lawyers’ Committee on e-filing and develop our protocols. We plan to be up and running in Law and Arbitration before the end of the year.
Judges have been experimenting with wireless computer equipment in chambers and on the bench with success. Our building is being converted from a token ring network to an Ethernet network that will significantly speed up our communications. And Video Bond Court has been a wonderful success. We hope to expand into all the criminal courtrooms when money allows.
CASE FILING STATISTICS
Case filings have generally increased modestly in 2002. On the criminal side, Felony, DUI, and DV filings have increased about 3%, while Traffic Cases are up about 1%. Misdemeanors decreased about 2%, while Ordinance Violations are down 3.6%.
On the civil side, Law cases have increased nominally, Arbitration cases are up 2%, and Small Claims and Chancery cases are up 3%. Probate and Forcibles are down over 7%.
In Domestic Relations, Divorce filings are up 2%, while Civil Juvenile Proceedings and Civil Orders of Protection have remained about the same. Juvenile Delinquency Petitions are up 18%.
The upshot of these statistics is that for 2002, the average number of cases per judge in DuPage County still leads the state at 7750 cases per judge. The State average is about 4700 cases per judge. Give your judge a pat on the back when you next see him or her.
If you have been watching television, you know the State is in a real financial crisis. Recent newspaper stories tell us the County is in just as much trouble. The effect on us has been a press on spending reduction, and an emphasis on revenue generation. The court system generates significant fines, fees and costs, but does not pay for itself. User fees have become popular, and Probation fees and the DUI evaluation fees have permitted us to operate many of those programs in the black. However, State reimbursement for Probation salaries has become very delayed, and appreciably downsized. We have avoided cutting programs and laying off personnel, but if things do not improve this next fiscal year, we will be required to do that.
One area the court hopes to improve is in the collection of fines, fees and costs in criminal cases. Unfortunately, there is a growing number of cases in which defendants never complete payments, and only a limited number of them are pursued for collection. By the creation of a Collections Office, the Circuit Clerk, State’s Attorney and the Circuit Court plan to enforce the courts’ orders and collect these sums. Over time this amounts to millions of dollars, and will be very helpful in the budget crunch, as well as preserve the authority of the court’s order.
And now, let me tell you about the state of the physical courthouse. If you have been at the complex recently, you have seen that the Office Annex is nearing completion. The shell is completed, the roof is almost done, and the interior spaces are progressing on schedule. The contractor plans to turn over the building in June or July so that air quality may be tested and certified. You can bet that will be some serious testing.
Once the building is available for occupancy, the State’s Attorney and Public Defender will move into their new space and furnishings. The Probation Department will move temporarily into the State’s Attorneys’ vacated space while their furnishings are disassembled and moved. The process should be completed by the end of November.
Plans for the underground parking to the west of the courthouse have not yet been finalized. While the garage is still contemplated, budgetary difficulties must be faced. Some people theorize it may not be built. However, the mall, with grass, landscaping and walkways, is still in the plans.
Work on expanding the cafeteria area to make room for the Jury Commission is progressing, and the new exterior walls and roof will be completed shortly. Temporary walls have been constructed in the library, and an alternate access created. The business of the law library should go on uninterrupted. Librarian Liz Cooper and her staff are doing a remarkable job under very difficult conditions.
Safe Harbor will be moved across the hallway later this summer and the former space incorporated into the jury commission/cafeteria area. The new Safe Harbor is scheduled to open to the public late fall of this year.
If we have no significant construction problems, everyone should be moved and operating from their new facilities by the end of the year. The vacated Public Defender’s area on the fourth floor will be reconfigured into criminal courtrooms, and we hope to move small claims into the space on the first floor vacated by the Jury Commission.
It is anticipated that most of the people working in the Office Annex will still park in the east parking garage, and enter through the east portico. The west entrance from the mall will be closed and used for exit only. Access from the west will be through the north door of the Annex from the mall, which will also have a security station.
All these changes will put additional pressures on the parking garage and building security. If you have tried to get into the complex on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday morning, you know it is already a problem. We keep the surface parking to the east closed until 8:45 am to prohibit employees from parking there, and to be sure it is available to the public. This step has helped somewhat.
The county has commissioned a traffic study and learned the true nature of our problem. You will be surprised to hear there are too many cars. At peak times we are trying to park 1400 cars an hour in a facility that max’s out at 1100 cars. Our options are to decrease the number of cars, or build another ramp up to the third or fourth floor.
A number of you anticipated this need months ago. I have received $10.00 checks from four local attorneys to help defray the cost of such a ramp - so long as it is restricted to lawyers. The county Finance Department is still wondering what to do with those checks, so please don’t send any more.
Since the new ramp is unlikely with current money problems, we have looked to our scheduling practices for relief. We surveyed all jury trials and learned that the vast majority (89%) commence at 10:30 am or later. Jurors are summoned for 9:00am to be available no later than 10:00am. With the concurrence of the law and criminal divisions, we are delaying the jurors’ summons time to 9:45am, making them available at 10:30am. This change will remove up to 150 cars from the 8:30 to 9:30am crunch time, and will begin with the summons returnable May 17th of this year. That should help.
We are looking at case scheduling in felony and domestic relations to see if there are minor changes that can be made to further lighten the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday morning traffic crunch. We will keep working on it until we get it right.
Well, that is my report. Many of the problems I reported in April of 2001 are no longer on the radar. Most of those I talked about in 2002 are being resolved. Things change and new issues take their place. Where last year we were still reacting to the horror of September 11, this year we have learned to prepare and protect ourselves, and go on with living.
Through it all, we again acknowledge that the good things in life are still most important – things like truth and honor and integrity. And we do our best to live up to those ideals and goals we set for ourselves.
We each know how well we are doing. Today I say to each of our coalition presidents, and to all of the membership assembled, it appears to me that as a system we are doing pretty well.