The Division of Judicial Operations of Lake County performs a wide variety of functions in its support of the Courts. The Judicial Operations management team includes a Director, an Assistant Director, and five supervisory personnel. The Director reports directly to the Executive Director of the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit.
The Division of Judicial Operations focuses on the daily operations of the Courts, with an emphasis on planning and implementing the most effective use of available resources to aid the processing of cases. The eight units comprising the Judicial Operations Division are:
In addition to these integral functions, the Judicial Speaker’s Bureau is also coordinated by Judicial Operations staff.
A Quick Look at Judicial Operations
A priority of Judicial Operations is the development of innovative ideas and programs improving the economy and efficiency of judicial resources. Such program development requires thoughtful consideration of those affected, as well as an understanding of the budget, personnel, and technology factors involved. Due to this thorough process, program development within Judicial Operations may require several months.
New programs of Judicial Operations are often implemented in segments due to cost factors, the impact on those utilizing the Courts, and the impact on stakeholders. Stakeholders include the public, the Court, Court-related entities (i.e.; state’s attorney’s office or public defender), attorneys, law enforcement, litigants (i.e.; victims or families), corporations, treatment providers, and the Court’s funding sources. Collective effort and teamwork are required in the successful development and implementation of any new program within Judicial Operations.
Finally, Judicial Operations is also involved in a number of additional projects, including the annual report, press releases, the court newsletter, Law Day activities, coordinating judicial trainings, and liaison to facilities management.
Our Organization, Programs and Services
Alternative Dispute Resolution Programs
There are many forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) available to citizens of Lake County, from both inside the courts and via private forums. Two ADR programs utilized by the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit are the Civil Case Mediation and Mandatory Court-Annexed Arbitration programs.
Civil case mediation differs from mandatory court-annexed arbitration in many ways including, but not limited to:
- the parties select the individual mediator, whereas the Court randomly selects the arbitrators;
- the parties pay the mediator directly at a rate determined by the mediator, while the State of Illinois pays the arbitrators at a rate determined by the Illinois Supreme Court;
- the mediation can be conducted in a variety of locations, while an arbitration hearing must be held at a location determined by the Court; and
- there is no specified time limit for mediation as the mediator may have to conduct multiple sessions spanning several days, but an arbitration hearing cannot exceed one full day.
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Civil Case Mediation
Lake County developed a mediation program for civil cases that exceed the upper jurisdictional limits of the Mandatory Court-Annexed Arbitration Program, currently set at $50,000.00. Illinois Supreme Court Rule 99 and Local Rule 20.00 govern the mediation program.
- Since the inception of the program, more than 600 cases have utilized mediation.
- Since the program began, 60% of all mediations have reached an agreement at the time of the mediation.
- Of the cases not resolved at the mediation conference, 76% reached a full settlement after the mediation and prior to the trial date.
- On average, a case sent to mediationis disposed within four months of the mediation conference, regardless of whether the parties were able to reach an acceptable agreement at the time of the mediation.
Mandatory Court-Annexed Arbitration
Arbitration is mandatory for civil cases seeking money damages between $10,000 and $50,000. A panel of three arbitrators conducts the arbitration hearing, allowing the parties to present all facts, evidence, and law before rendering an award. The arbitration award is not binding for 30 days, during which time any party present at the arbitration hearing may "reject" the award, pay a rejection fee, and then proceed to a trial before a judge or jury. Illinois Supreme Court Rules 86 through 95 and Local Rule 17.00 govern the mandatory arbitration program.
The success of the arbitration program lies in the fact that most cases are resolved before the arbitration hearing, with a relatively small number of cases actually proceeding to hearing. After the hearing, cases are either dismissed or set for trial; many cases settle without the need for a trial. Every year less than four percent of the cases filed result in a trial.
Staffed by four state sworn probation officers, the Compliance Program was developed in 1995 with three goals: (1) to better utilize judicial and prosecution resources, (2) to create a safer community by monitoring certain individuals in the court system to ensure compliance with the Court’s orders, and (3) to increase the collection rate on fines, fees, and costs. Training is mandatory during the first year of service and every officer is certified through the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts Probation Division.
The Compliance Program monitors all non-probationary cases of individuals who are placed on court supervision or required to successfully complete the terms of a court order within a given time frame. An officer will conduct a one-time intake interview with offenders at the completion of the case. During this interview, the court’s final disposition order is carefully reviewed with the individual and the officer explains in detail what steps they need to complete in order to successfully comply with the conditions set forth in the order. The officers continue to monitor the cases to ensure compliance. If non-compliance is verified, a letter is sent to inform the defendant that he/she has a specified number of days to comply before the state’s attorney’s office or prosecuting attorney is notified of non-compliance. The unit’s caseload averages over 7,900 individuals on any given day.
Additionally, the unit initiates electronic orders and faxes to expedite processes and reduce costs. Staff members also participate in a number of training courses to enhance their skills, including Motivational Interviewing, Customer Service, and training to use the Illinois Law Enforcement Agencies Data System (LEADS).
Court Reporting Services
Court Reporters are licensed by the State of Illinois. The primary function of a court reporter is to make a verbatim record of all testimony in a court proceeding and, upon request, produce a written transcript of the proceedings. In an average day, a reporter may transcribe from 30,000 to 50,000 words. Additionally, court reporters frequently reference the record for judicial decision making and record keeping purposes. Court reporters also organize trial exhibits.
Court reporters maintain and archive electronic notes for future use, such as preparing transcripts for an appeal. On average, the court reporters prepare approximately 80,000 pages of transcript annually.
The 19th Judicial Circuit has 21 full-time court reporters and one court reporting services supervisor. The Chief Judge of the Circuit shall designate a supervisor who is responsible for assigning and coordinating the activities of the court reporters. It is also the responsibility of the supervisor to instruct reporters as to their duties and obligations and to ensure that they are properly carried out.
In addition, the court reporting services supervisor is assigned the task of coordinating the usage of exotic language interpreters that are required for non-English speaking individuals in some court proceedings.
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The Nineteenth Judicial Circuit employs interpreters on both a permanent and contractual basis. The qualifications for a court interpreter include command of both the English and the non-English language, including familiarity with legal terminology, as well as the ability to perform three major types of interpretation: simultaneous, consecutive, and sight. Court interpreters take an oath to interpret accurately and to the best of their ability. They are expected to translate from the source-language to English and English to the source-language exactly as stated in an impartial manner, without embellishing or omitting words. Court interpreters are also expected to be of the highest moral character.
Ethnic diversity continues to grow in Lake County. Interpreters are being used more and more extensively throughout all branches of the Lake County courts, with Spanish being the most frequently requested language. In 2008, Spanish interpreter services were expanded to the family court division for child support cases.
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Judicial Assistants Unit
The Judicial Assistants Unit consists of seven employees who support fifteen Circuit Judges and twenty-four Associate Judges, as well as the Administrative Office of the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit. These valuable staff members perform countless duties including: coordinating the schedules of thirty-nine (39) judges, seventy-one (71) traffic ticket writing agencies, and twenty (20) prosecuting agencies, spread over five (5) different campuses, including the Depke Juvenile Complex, the Lake County Court Complex, and three (3) branch court locations. In addition, support is provided to all three (3) divisions: Civil, Criminal and Consolidated Family Law. The Judicial Assistants have been cross-trained in other units of the Judicial Operations Division and provide support to these units on an as needed basis.
The judges within the three (3) divisions rely on the Judicial Assistants to assist with the processing of their individual caseloads. In addition to creating the daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly court calendars, the unit also evaluates pending caseloads and develops and implements automated and procedural systems to support effective court calendar management techniques. Collectively, the unit produces statistical reports which are utilized by judges, administrators, the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts, and other departments. The unit also serves as the liaison between various internal and external departments in regards to court-related information.
The Administrative Office of the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit relies on the Judicial Assistants to perform a myriad of duties including:
- Type judges’ case decisions, orders, juror letters, and correspondence;
- Schedule meetings and activities;
- Coordinate travel arrangements;
- Arrange meetings and appointments;
- Respond to inquiries (internal and external) received via mail, telephone, or e-mail;
- Perform secretarial and general clerical duties;
- Provide assistance to Jury Commission, Law Library and Kids' Korner;
- Assist in special projects.
The Judicial Assistants report directly to the Unit Manager who reports directly to the Director of Judicial Operations. Although each position has its own general area of responsibility, there is a great deal of overlap among the areas and the Assistants work cooperatively to ensure the system operates both productively and efficiently.
The Jury Commission supports the court system by determining anticipated juror needs and summoning residents in sufficient quantities, ensuring that jurors are available when needed. The term of service for jurors in is one week, however a call-in system is used to minimize the number of days jurors are actually required to report to the court complex. The Jury Commission maintains close communication with courtroom personnel to determine the daily need for jurors.
The Jury Commission assists summoned individuals by responding to requests and inquiries prior to, during, and after their jury service. Additionally, the Commission reviews all requests to be disqualified, excused, or deferred, to an alternate summons date. All requests are reviewed individually. Final decisions are based on very specific criteria and documentation requirements.
Once individuals report for service, they are provided with an orientation regarding what to expect during their term of service. The Jury Assembly Room is a spacious room with a number of amenities intended to make jury service comfortable and convenient. Examples include a vending canteen, computers and Wi-Fi access, reading materials, games, and lockers. The Jury Commission strives to make jurors’ experience with the court both positive and enlightening.
Annually, over the past five years, an average of 8,000 residents complete jury service. Of those, 2,500 are selected as trial jurors for the average 210 jury trials. Sixty seven percent of those were criminal trials, the remainder were civil trials. The average trial length is 2.5 days.
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Kids’ Korner, the children’s waiting room in the Lake County Courthouse, provides a safe, fun, and structured environment for children ages two through twelve who are in the courthouse to testify in court or whose parents or guardians are conducting court business. While the primary focus of Kids’ Korner is to protect children, the program is also of great benefit to the operation of the court system. Prior to opening Kids’ Korner, children were often left unattended in hallways or were present in courtrooms while their parents conducted court business, putting them at risk of being adversely impacted by the proceedings. With fewer children present in the hallways and courtrooms, court time and resources can be utilized more effectively. In addition, parents can be assured that their children are secure and protected from exposure to the confusing adult business taking place inside the courtrooms.
Kids’ Korner provides a safe haven to approximately 200 children each month. Kids’ Korner has serviced over 36,000 children since opening their doors in 1994.
Special projects of Kids' Korner include:
- The “Give-A-Book” project, begun in 1996, continues to be a success with both the children it is intended to benefit and the generous donors who support it. Each child cared for in Kids’ Korner chooses a book to take home. These books are given in an effort to encourage parents to read to their children, to promote a life-long love of reading and learning, and teach children about the world around them. New and gently used books for this program are provided entirely through donations.
- Continuing with our efforts to encourage our families to read, Kids’ Korner celebrates Dr. Seuss’s birthday in March. With “Read Across America” as our theme, every child visiting Kids’ Korner chose a Dr. Seuss book to take home. Again, thanks to generous donations, children are able to choose these special Dr. Seuss books for a serveral weeks during the month of March.
- In support of Family Reading Night sponsored by the State of Illinois. Kids’ Korner celebrates the entire month of November with special posters and decorations throughout the room demonstrating the importance of families reading together. Special bookmarks and extra books are given to each child visiting Kids’ Korner, and parents are encouraged to spend time reading to their children.
- Our holiday “Give-An-Animal-A-Home” project takes place in the months of December and January. Each child cared for in Kids’ Korner chooses a new stuffed animal from under our Giving Tree, providing it with a new home. This can be a stressful time in these children’s lives and this holiday project brings a smile to many young faces. New stuffed animals for this project are also provided through donations.
- Kids’ Korner is the lucky recipient of handmade blankets from Project Linus, a 100% volunteer, non-profit organization that distributes these beautiful blankets to critically ill and traumatized children. We receive 80-100 handmade blankets every two months to distribute to our children who may be in need of a little extra comfort. We also receive hundreds of handmade fleece, quilted, and crocheted blankets from the Ela Township Charity Knitters and Crochet Group of Lake Zurich to distribute to our children.
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William D. Block Memorial Law Library
The goal of the William D. Block Memorial Law Library is to serve the public. This goal is accomplished by providing the judges, attorneys, and citizens of an open and efficient system of access to the library’s resources. The law library collection includes 20,000 books, access to pre-printed forms from the Circuit Clerk’s office, and computers on which patrons can access specialized legal research databases and free sources of online legal information. The law library’s print collection can be searched online through its catalog available at http://lccatalog.lakecountyil.gov/ics-wpd/.
The library is staffed by a law librarian, one bilingual full-time clerk and one bilingual full-time paralegal. In order to accommodate the needs of the judiciary and the citizens of Lake County, the library is open from 8:00 am until 5:00 pm Monday through Friday.
About 70% of library visitors are self-represented litigants; the other 30% are practicing attorneys and their paralegals. The law library works closely with public libraries throughout the state to help promote the library as a resource to their staff, whose users can be directed to the William D. Block Memorial Law Library when legal matters and questions arise.
The librarian and staff work closely with the judges and the Circuit Clerk’s office to coordinate the court forms for self-represented litigants.
The law librarian is a member of several library organizations, including the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL), and the Illinois Library Association (ILA). Continued involvement with these professional associations allows the library to stay up to date on new services and resources for legal professionals and self-represented litigants.
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