The Journal of The DuPage County Bar Association

Back Issues > Vol. 21 (2008-09)

State of the Courthouse 2009
By Honorable Stephen J. Culliton, Chief Judge

Good afternoon, my fellow lawyers. I learned long ago that one should never speak on the same program as Judge Bauer. He’s just that good. I am forced, however, to violate that rule.

Whenever I have the opportunity to speak to the Bar Association, I think back some 39 years to when I first joined the DuPage County Bar and to some 29 years ago when I had the privilege of serving as its President. My reaction is always the same. It is basically, how could that be. It was 1970, just a few years ago.

But for all of these almost 40 years, I have had the highest respect for the DuPage County Bar Association. That respect for the Association flows from the vitality and integrity of its membership which has been consistently reflected in this Bar’s leadership. The DuPage County Bar Association has a tradition of looking back only for the purpose of examining history in order that it may look and move forward. This Bar Association has, throughout the time I have known it, been at the vanguard of change and progress while never losing sight of its core principles and purpose. I am proud to be a member and I am privileged to have the opportunity to address you this afternoon.

When I first began to undertake the task of preparing comments for this State of the Courthouse message, I was mindful of the principle that being brief is always appreciated; that a long message is likely to be less appreciated; and that, frankly, the subject matter is not inherently exciting nor subject to being made exciting.

With all that in mind, I came up with this State of the Courthouse message: "The State of the Courthouse is pretty damn good". However, the folks who really run the Chief Judge’s Office, my secretary, Lois Doerr, and trial court administrator, Chuck Hoffman, told me I had to expand on that message.

Having been properly admonished, I then started work on an expanded message. Here goes. Have you ever noticed that really good speakers seem to include pithy and extremely clever quotes from authors whom we all act like we know and may even claim to have read when, in fact, we really don’t have a clue whether the guy actually said the great quote or really, even who the guy is. I always wondered whether the speaker just remembered some great quote from some reading he did years and years ago of Chesterton or Keats or Shakespeare or somebody who lived before Christ and just said to himself "I’ll just go back and look at this and maybe it would be appropriate for this talk". That is impressive.

But, since I don’t have any of that going for me, I went straight to Bartlett’s Quotations and looked in the index under "courthouse, state of." I found nothing. I then looked in the index under "chief judge – duties" and still I found nothing.

That then led me to one of my favorite books "The 2,548 Best Things Anybody Ever Said". As I reviewed those 2,548 things, I realized that none was really apropos or related to that which I am required to discuss. I was undaunted and to show what little nexus I need to use a quote, I share this with you: "Law school is the opposite of sex. Even when it’s good, it’s lousy". Now I know there is the law school nexus with this audience – I can’t speak for the other. Now for the State of the Courthouse.

One of the areas I would like to update you on relates to e-filings, electronic orders and electronic signatures of judges. I am not a tech guy, but there are very competent technological and computer savvy people addressing the needs of those who use our court system and services. E-filing has proved to be a great success and its usage is growing. Many courtrooms now have the facility to create electronic orders, and we are working toward expanding the use of electronic orders, both in the criminal and civil courtrooms. A big help in that regard would be the approval by the Supreme Court of e-signatures for judges so we don’t have to reduce electronic orders to paper for signature. It kind of defeats the purpose. When e-signatures are approved, orders will be instantly entered into our DUCS system without waiting for them to be entered some two or three days after the order is signed. We are moving forward.

In January of this year, we instituted a Pretrial Services Program – a program that is required in all counties by the Illinois Pretrial Services Statute. Its purpose is to assure that defendants are not unnecessarily detained prior to trial, and to that end, it requires the defendant be offered the opportunity to have a pretrial report prepared. The report is designed to give the judges, for bond setting purposes, more extensive and verifiable facts related to the alleged offender. It also provides the judges with meaningful monitoring devices to assure that the conditions of bond are met.

The County Board has funded the pretrial services unit of our Probation Department to the extent of seven field officers who do the monitoring, five report writers, a supervisor and a support person. Every lawyer practicing criminal law in DuPage County should be aware of this Pretrial Service Program, as its sole purpose is to prevent unnecessary pretrial incarceration. Our judges are working hard to assure its success.

Without any pretense whatsoever, or any segue whatsoever, I remind you that Ray Blount, Jr. said: "Lawyers must go to school for years and years, often with little sleep and with great sacrifice to their first wives." To be politically correct, which is always my goal, I am amending Mr. Blount’s statement to say "with great sacrifice to their first spouse". That’s number two of the 2,548.

Some of you may be aware that our State legislature enacted what is referred to as the Cindy Bischof Act, which became effective January 1 of this year. Its purpose was to protect victims of domestic violence from persons who had an order of protection entered against them and were subsequently charged with a violation of that order of protection. Under the Act, they are required to undergo a risk assessment, ostensibly so that the bond judge would set an appropriate bond, which could include requiring the defendant to wear a tracking device. The legislation provided for absolutely no funding of the required risk assessment nor any funding for the usage of any tracking devices. Nor did it take into account that it is virtually impossible to get a risk assessment prior to the constitutional requirement of bringing the defendant before a sitting judge for the purpose of setting bail. However, with the assistance of the State’s Attorney’s Office, the Clerk’s Office and the Probation Department, we have been able to do the best we can to have a prompt risk assessment available, usually within three to ten days after the arrest, so a judge could adjust the terms of the original bail should he or she deem it necessary, including, perhaps, the requirement that a GPS device be worn by the defendant.

We have been in touch with the legislature to point out the flaws in this legislation and hope for meaningful amendments so that no victim is misled with respect to the extent of her protection. In our county, Adult Probation is charged with the responsibility of our compliance efforts with the Bischof Act, and, I believe they are doing a very good job of it.

I am happy to report, in connection with the Probation Department, that after eleven months of negotiation and subsequent mediation, a four year contract was reached between the Department of Probation and Court Services and AFSCME Council 31, the labor bargaining unit. I should point out, that this agreement was reached prior to my term as Chief Judge and all of the persons involved in arriving at that contract are to be congratulated. They are further to be congratulated because the contract does not expire until November 30, 2011, which, coincidentally, is the last day of my term as Chief Judge.

Another new law affecting the work of the Probation Department is an act, which goes into effect January 1, 2010, which provides that anyone under the age of eighteen years, a change from seventeen years old, who is charged with a misdemeanor, shall be referred to the juvenile court instead of the adult court. The effect of this on Probation relates to the fact that history has shown us that probation costs for a juvenile offender are substantially greater than those for an adult offender. We are preparing for the anticipated increase in misdemeanor juvenile probationers and the legislature appears to be on a track to raise the age to 18 for felony charges as well.

I would like to share another non-segue with you. Sometimes I think persons are less than genuine when they heap praise on the Chief Judge. So I try to take any favorable comments with a certain modicum of doubt. However, the other day I was advised, after a particularly busy day, that I always seem to be at my best. But the person giving me that apparent compliment quickly reminded me that, as Gene Giraudoux, who lived from 1882-1944, once said: "Only the mediocre are always at their best." Number three of the 2,548.

I would like to comment on the tremendous level of assistance the Bar has lent to two of our programs, neither of which could possibly function, let alone succeed, without the truly unselfish support of the members of this Association. I refer to our Pro se Night Court Program in Domestic Relations where lawyers create order out of chaos; bring direction to the confused (I mean the pro se litigants, not the judges); and make the operation of that court possible. Judges Equi and Anderson persistently beseech me to give you the thanks which is so well-earned. That program is another tangible tribute to this Bar Association and its dedication to serving the needs of the community.

In addition, our Pro se Assistance Desk could not possibly function without your volunteer work, and your help there is very much appreciated.

I would like to make you aware that we have created a Speaker’s Bureau in the Office of the Chief Judge, which is being managed by Robin Partin. Many of our judges have volunteered to speak to community groups, high schools, chambers of commerce and the like. If the Bar Association is ever in need of a judge as a speaker, even beyond continuing legal education programs, please don’t hesitate to get in contact with either myself or Robin Partin.

You may or may not be aware that throughout the year, Bench/Bar meetings are held where your Executive Committee meets with the Chief Judge’s Executive Committee, which is comprised of the presiding judges of each division as well as the acting chief judge. At a recent meeting, we discussed the effectiveness of our Intermediary Program. At its core, it is a program designed to give practicing attorneys a track to deliver any suggestions, criticisms or complaints they may have about judges regarding civility or timeliness. The concept is that an informal discussion with a particular judge by an intermediary may help that judge identify an area in which he or she could improve the conduct of the business of the court. The concept is sound, however, the Program has not been much used. It was agreed at the Bench/Bar meeting that we would continue the Program and make efforts to publicize it in order that we may measure whether or not it should be continued. I mention it here as part of the effort to have it publicized. If more information regarding it would be helpful, please check with the Bar or look for information in the Bar Journal. Every judge should welcome constructive comment and criticism.

I would also like to mention that we have recently approved a Track II for our Drug Court. Those practicing in the criminal area should be aware that the Track II proposal will provide a sentencing and treatment alternative for the first time felony offender who may not be eligible for first offender probation pursuant to Section 10 of the Cannabis Control Act or Section 410 of the Controlled Substance Act. These offenders would follow the same screening and evaluation process that has already been established by the Drug Court program. The offender would need to follow and complete all treatment recommendations established in the initial evaluation and any follow-up evaluations completed by the Drug Court staff. This proposed expansion has the full support of our State’s Attorney, Joe Birkett, and hopefully this expanded program will help those "otherwise not eligible offenders" straighten out their lives.

Another innovation instituted over the last year is the installation of the monitors found at every courtroom as well as a bank of monitors on the second floor. Justice Ann Jorgensen, along with our Clerk of the Circuit Court, Chris Kachiroubas, were largely responsible for this innovation. The benefits include saving paper and the costs related to the usage of paper; saving the man hours required to post all of the paper court schedules; and easier access by the public attempting to determine where their case may be heard. It is my understanding, that additional information and data will be provided on these monitors in the near future.

No State of the Courthouse message would be complete without the Chief Judge announcing how many cases were filed in the last year. Please get your pen and paper ready: 226,880 criminal cases, including about 195,000 traffic cases (if you need the exact number, please see me later), were filed in 2008; and 34,913 civil cases were filed in 2008. I can’t believe that I indicated earlier that this material isn’t inherently exciting.

With respect to individual calls, not surprisingly, the number of foreclosures filed has risen dramatically. Judge Fullerton is very capably and efficiently handling that increase. As those of you who work in that area know, the paperwork is extensive. I recently met with Mr. Kachiroubas and he agreed to look into the possibility of giving additional assistance to the clerk assigned to the foreclosure call. I should note that Judge Fullerton has nothing but the highest praise for the currently assigned clerk. It is just that the paper volume is excessive, and we believe additional clerk assistance will help expedite the call.

As to other cases in the Chancery Division, our Probate judge, Judge Dudgeon, has reminded me that, as Ambrose Breis (1842-1914) so aptly stated: "Death is not the end – there remains the litigation". Number 4 of the 2,548.

Divorce filings were actually slightly down in 2008 from 2007. 2,720 dissolution of marriage cases were filed in 2008 and a little over 2,800 in 2007. The divorce judges have advised me this is, in part, due to the economy where people are buying into the fact that two can live as cheaply as one and the fact that it is extremely difficult to sell most family’s main asset – their homes. As you probably are not aware, Cary Grant once said that "Divorce is a game played by lawyers". But you know it now. Number five of 2,548.

I also bet you didn’t know that, when Melvin Belli was thrown out of the ABA he said "Getting kicked out of the ABA is like getting kicked out of the Book of the Month Club." Mr. Belli also said "I am not an ambulance chaser – I usually get there before the ambulance." Which might have had something to do with him being kicked out of the Book of the Month Club, I don’t know. Numbers 6 and 7 of 2,548.

The Illinois Supreme Court has given all circuits in the state until January 2011 to devise a Continuation of Operations Plan, known as COOP. This plan will outline the steps to be taken should a disaster befall the courthouse or its operation. The plan will address the need to find alternative sites and resources to continue to conduct the court’s business. I am very happy to report that our County Board and its Chairman, Mr. Schillerstrom, have a parallel project to assure that County services will continue to be provided in case of a disaster, and we are able to work with them in the preparation of such a plan which, frankly, gives us a leg up over many other circuits and for which we are very appreciative.

There is another matter related to the judiciary, even if not directly related to the State of the Courthouse, which I would like to bring to your attention. As many of you know, in last year’s General Assembly session, when the anti-Blagojevich frenzy was beginning to grow, the House passed a recall bill to amend our Constitution to allow for the recall of elected public officials before the expiration of their term, by vote of the populace. The House version did not include judges. But, as the politics of the measure unfolded, then president of the Senate, Emil Jones, desirous of killing the bill to protect Blagojevich, decided that if the Senate amended the bill to add judges, that is make judges subject to recall, the bill would die. The amended bill was, in fact, defeated in the Senate, I believe by a mere two votes. Senator Cullerton and other senators have since been the subject of negative Chicago Tribune and other editorials when, I believe, these senators voted against the recall bill because it included judges, and I believe they rose above the politics of the matter.

It is my understanding there is currently a recall bill in the Senate which again includes judges. I would ask that the Bar Association and its members examine this. I believe it strikes at the very heart of an independent judiciary. Any unpopular decision made by a judge, a decision the judge honestly feels is the appropriate decision based upon the law and facts before him, may subject that judge to recall. Recently, a highly respected Federal judge, Milton Shadur, sentenced Edward Vrdolyak to probation without incarceration. It was soundly criticized by much of the media. Judge Shadur exercised his judicial independence. He is not subject to the whim and fancy of the media or the public. A state court judge in that same position could well jeopardize his career by doing what he believed the law and facts required of him. Please take the time to examine this bill and take whatever action you may think appropriate.

By way of concluding this message as to the State of the Courthouse, a conclusion for which you are all, no doubt, grateful, I would like to do some thanking.

I have served as Chief Judge for the 18th Judicial Circuit for a little over six months. In that time, I have worked very closely with the State’s Attorney’s Office, the Office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court, the Public Defender’s Office, the Sheriff’s Office, and the DuPage County Board and its Chairman as well as others. I want to personally thank Joe Birkett, Chris Kachiroubas, Bob Miller, Sheriff Zaruba, Bob Schillerstrom, and the members of the County Board, all of whom have been of great help in getting me up to speed to serve as Chief Judge. I look forward to their continued cooperation.I would also like to thank all 45 sitting judges of the 18th Judicial Circuit for their cooperation and support. I have heard so many times over the years that the judiciary of the 18th Judicial Circuit is second to none in the State. As I am now more personally involved with the work of other judges, I am absolutely convinced that this is the case. I thank each of them for their continued dedication to their oath of office.

I would also like to thank all of the staff of the Chief Judge’s Office and our support staff. They have been most patient and most helpful. And lastly, I would like to thank President Tom Else and the entire DCBA for their cooperation.

As my last – absolutely no segue quote, I leave you with this from Will Rogers – "We can’t all be heroes because somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by."

Thank you, and I look forward to telling you at the next State of the Courthouse message how many criminal and civil cases were filed in 2009.

I’ll bet you can’t wait.

DCBA Brief