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Report of the Judiciary

 

News from the Judicial Operations Division

 

The Judicial Operations division focuses on the daily operations of the court.  The division provides support and guidance in the areas of trial court operations including alternative dispute resolution, caseflow management, court reporters, court interpreters and general office support.  Other key areas of the division include the jury commission, law library and children’s waiting center. More about the individual functions of the division may be found here.

 

2013

 

For the first half of 2013 the Law Division had a total of 326 cases set for Jury trial; of the 326 cases set the following results occurred:128 (39%) Cases were continued; 1 (0%) Case was transferred to Arbitration; 172 (53%) Cases were dismissed and 25 (8%) Cases went to trial resulting in a verdict.

 

The Volunteer Mediation Program, which comprised of attorneys from the Approved Mediators list volunteering their time to assist the family division judges and pro se litigants with settling unresolved issues through mediation, has settled 76 or 72% of the 105 cases referred to the program for the first half of the year. To assist the judges with hearing pro se cases set on the Case Management call, starting July 30, 2013 the Tuesday volunteer mediation day was reassigned to the hearing judge’s Tuesday Case Management Call.

 

In May 2013, the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit Law Division hosted GAL Training for attorneys interested in being appointed by the court to represent the interest of parties in Probate cases.

 

The Family Court Referral list consists of private mental health professionals approved to receive referrals from the court to perform custody and visitation evaluations for families involved in litigation over their children. The Presiding and Supervising Judges of the Family Division opened the list for new members in October 2012.  Seven interview panels comprised of current Evaluators, Family Law Attorneys, and Family Judges met with interested candidates over two weeks and finalized the list in March 2013 by adding: six (6) new Licensed Clinical Psychologists and one (1) new Licensed Clinical Social Worker. With the new members, the Approved Family Evaluators list consists of 13 mental health professionals who will bring a wealth of experience in hearing some of the family division most difficult cases.

  

In 2013, the Law Library is working on streamlining the existing collection to make research more productive to patrons and to increase available space in the library. This project includes  updating library system software as well as barcoding and cataloging the materials in the existing collection using best practices. The law library is working towards putting a catalog online for patrons to access from any outside location.

 

Often, the reason potential jurors do not attend jury duty is due to the fact that they are not a citizen or no longer a resident of Lake County.  In Jury Commission, it is our responsibility to reach out to potential jurors who failed to appear and get more information or proof as to why they did not attend. Without that proof, Lake County does prosecute those who fail to appear after being summoned twice. Reaching out to each juror with a mailed letter was a daunting task on the department. In June, with the collaborative efforts of the Judicial Information Systems department and Jury Commission, we were able to create a feature in our Jury  Management System that would automatically create a report and generate letters to those who failed to appear. This letter includes information necessary to ensure the juror either submits proper documentation or contacts our office to set up a more convenient date to serve as a Juror. Automating this process has saved a significant amount of man hours dedicated to reaching out to potential jurors. With that, we are able to stay more up to date with communication we receive from thousands of potential jurors at any given time.

 

March 2013, Judge Betar and Judge Simonian hosted a thank you luncheon for the volunteer small claims mediators. The judges thanked the mediators for their generous donation of time and knowledge, resulting in a successful program. During the first 6 months of the program, 86% of the mediated forcible cases and 63% of the mediated small claims cases were fully resolved during the mediation. In general, the feedback from pro se litigants has been very positive. The mediators also contributed their suggestions and ideas on ways to improve the small claims mediation program.

 

Pursuant to the Supreme Court of Illinois, extended media coverage was authorized in the circuit courts of Illinois on an experimental, circuit by circuit basis on January 24, 2012. The Nineteenth Judicial Circuit made an application with the Supreme Court of Illinois for extended media coverage and was approved one year later on January 24, 2013. Local Court Rule 21.06 governing Extended Media Coverage (EMC) in Lake County Courts was approved by the Circuit Judges on March 4, 2013 which defines the policies and procedures related to the Extended Media Coverage Pilot Program.

 

Chief Judge Fred Foreman extended an invitation to members of the media to attend a meeting on March 14, 2013 to discuss the rules, policies and procedures of Extended Media Coverage as it relates to Lake County.

Since commencing Extended Media Coverage, the Circuit Court of Lake County has approved requests for cameras in courtrooms for trials and sentencings.

 

The Criminal Division Judges have been instrumental in establishing the procedures for extended media coverage, and they have ensured that these procedures are observed by the media. To date the Nineteenth Circuit has received over 50 requests mainly focused on Criminal Division cases.

 

In January 2013, the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit Law Division hosted the Mortgage Foreclosure Help Desk Training for attorneys who wanted to volunteer their time at Nineteenth Judicial Mortgage Foreclosure help desk.

 

The family division gained an additional courtroom in January 2013. With the new courtroom and two assigned backup judges, during the first half of the year, the division had a total of 361 cases on the trial calendars. The final dispositions indicate that 196 cases or 54% were prove ups, 122 or 34% were continued, 30 or 8% went to trial and 16 or 4% were dismissed.

 

January 2013, the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit has decided to partner with the Affordable Housing Corporation of Lake County to create and implement a foreclosure mediation program. The mediation will be designed to facilitate communication between the homeowners and the banks to assist in resolving Lake County foreclosures.

 

In January 2013, the petit juror survey was automated. Jurors are asked, via our “current juror information” website or the letter sent home with their juror stipend, to go to a website and provide feedback on how we are doing. We are still working diligently on increasing the survey response. These surveys are taken seriously when making considerations on how to improve the experience of those doing their civic duty. The numbers and statistics generated from this survey are also used to compare jurors’ over all experience in Lake County with jurors in other locations across the country.

 

Late in 2012 Kids’ Korner moved to a new space, with built in matching cabinets and cubbies, sign-in reception area and wonderful new play space. It is still conveniently located on the first floor of the courthouse, between family courtrooms C103 and C105. Much of early 2013 has been spent on making Kids’ Korner a warm, welcoming and friendly room for our families and kids to visit. We have added decals to the public entrance hall to invite our families into Kids’ Korner, including a large tree with colorful birds. Many decals inside the room decorate the walls, including a 6 foot giraffe, a blue flowered hippopotamus as well as many other welcoming friends. Beautiful handmade quilts add a special touch to the walls.

 

2012

  

In December 2012, a new courtroom is scheduled to be opened on the first floor of the main courthouse.  The opening was the result of almost a year-long project dating back to January 2012 when the Finance and Administration Committee of the Lake County Board approved a remodeling project to address the need for additional office and work space.  Known as the Short Term Court Initiative (STCI), the project necessitated relocation of many staff and functions to accommodate the construction of the new courtroom. 

 

The STCI included a build out of the second and third floors center court offices, renovation and conversion of existing conference rooms into office space, finishing of the lower level of the Adult Probation building and renovation and conversion of jury rooms on the 3rd floor of the court annex to accommodate the Judicial Information Staff.  The work and moves were done in stages and culminated in the relocation of the Kids’ Korner Children’s Waiting Center to the area formerly used as the court administration central office.  The Kids’ Korner move was completed in mid-October and the work on the new courtroom began immediately afterward.  Over 40 staff and judges were affected by the moves in order to accommodate the space for the new courtroom.

 

After much study by the Family Division Task Force and months of discussion with the Lake County Bar Association’s Family Law Committee, the Circuit Court of the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit implementing new courtroom schedules for the Family Division which create trial call weeks for each courtroom and utilize standardized case management orders for family matters. The trial call weeks allow a case to be tried on consecutive days, ending the inefficient practice of rescheduling matters that required multiple days for trial spread over many months. The standardized case management orders allow for the efficient setting of deadlines required by Illinois Supreme Court Rules for civil and child custody matters, and reduce unnecessary court dates.  All of these changes are intended to create an improved process for handling family matters, and reduce needless delay and expense for divorce litigants.        

 

The new schedule for each courtroom will consist of two (2) trial weeks and two (2) non-trial weeks.  During the first trial week, both the assigned judge and a full-time back-up judge will be available to hear trials all day.  The second trial week will allow for routine motions during the morning and afternoon trials for cases carried over from the first week of the trial call.  All cases set for trial will be set on the first Monday of the trial weeks and will be assigned by the judge sitting in the main courtroom to backup judges as needed.  Consistent with the procedure in Felony and Law Division trial calls, the litigants and their counsel should be available for trial as they are reached during the two (2) week trial call.  In addition, the trial call system now provides that all litigants and counsel shall appear on the trial conference date which is set thirteen (13) days prior to the trial call.  The purpose of this event is to evaluate the order in which the trials will proceed, as well as address all other matters outlined in Lake County Local Court Rule 11.08.

 

The new trial call system commenced on November 26, 2012. 

 

Other changes that were implemented earlier in the year to improve the Family Court process include:

 

·   Uncontested Adoptions were moved to the Juvenile Division. These matters are now scheduled for the first Thursday each month at 2:00 PM in both Juvenile courtrooms. 

 

·   Mental health hearings were moved to the domestic violence courtroom within the Criminal Division.

 

·   Realignment of judicial resources within the division have provided a full-time back-up Judge rotating one week at a time for each Family Division courtroom. 

           

In August 2012, the 19th Judicial Circuit Law Division hosted the Mortgage Foreclosure Help Desk training for attorneys interested in volunteering their time assisting litigants with understanding the civil actions of the Mortgage Foreclosure process. The training covers various topics including ethical issues. Additional trainings will be conducted for attorneys seeking membership to the list.

 

In August 2012 Kids’ Korner reached yet another milestone; since opening our doors in 1994 Kids’ Korner has provided a safe haven for over 40,000 children involved in the court system.

 

New criminal sentencing orders were implemented on July 2, 2012.  The comprehensive revision of the then existing misdemeanor and felony sentencing orders was undertaken as an initiative to provide defendants a better understanding of the conditions of their sentencing and court-ordered obligations.  The revision process was conducted for over six (6) months by a subcommittee of the 19th Judicial Circuit Judges which were then approved by the Chief Judge.  Each order includes an “Exhibit A” (costs, fees and assessments) form that sets out the court costs as well as an “Exhibit B” for the specialty probation units (DUI, IPS, Sex Offender, and Domestic Violence) or any of the Therapeutic Intensive Monitoring Courts.  

 

Due to an increase in filings, the mortgage foreclosure call which was previously heard in the Park City Branch court was relocated to the main courthouse. In June 2012 the court began utilizing the County Board Room as a courtroom for the rapidly increasing caseload.  In addition a conference room which adjoins the County Board Room is being utilized for the Mortgage Foreclosure Help Desk.

 

In June 2012 the theme “Ready, Set…Play” was established in Kids’ Korner for the summer months.  Through local donations, each child visiting Kids’ Korner during the summer months received a toy such as a frisbee, kite, or jump rope to encourage kids to stay active and fit over the summer months.  Families of the children also received a fact sheet about the health benefits of an active lifestyle and ways for families to stay active.

Simultaneous with the June 2012 relocation of the mortgage foreclosure call to the downtown campus, the Arbitration and Probate caseloads were transferred to the Park City Branch Court for all scheduled hearings.

 

In May of 2012, the Felony and Misdemeanor/Traffic Divisions merged into one Criminal Division. In addition the domestic violence court and the Therapeutic Intensive Monitoring Courts (TIM) which include Drug Court, and Mental Health Court as well as the Veterans Treatment and Assistance Court (VTAC) were assigned to be a part of the Criminal Division. 

 

In May 2012, the 19th Judicial Circuit Law Division hosted the GAL Training for attorneys interested in being appointed on Probate cases.

 

Beginning in May 2012 and continuing through the end of the year, Kids’ Korner staff distributed to the families of children visiting Kids’ Korner a laminated magnetic sheet placed on the refrigerator for easy reference, titled “Tips for Reading Aloud to Your Child”. The magnet was designed by Kids’ Korner staff and was distributed to promote parents reading to their children.

 

In the Spring of 2012, court administration conducted a thorough review of its allocation of resources in the branch court. The review included trend analysis of both the caseload filings and courtroom settings of all traffic cases and an analysis of the calendaring practices for all of the branch courtrooms.  By realigning calendaring practices and adjusting some courtroom settings, the Court gained precious judicial resources and was able to shift the use of a courtroom full-time towards the management of civil cases.

 

In recognition of the success of court annexed alternative dispute programs, the 19th Judicial Circuit has expanded their mediation program to include both probate mediation and small claims mediation. The 19th Judicial Circuit ADR Center will administer both new programs.

 

The 19th Judicial Circuit partnered with the Lake County Bar Association to develop a small claims mediation program. The small claims mediation program was designed to assist litigants in small claims disputes and to maximize efficiency of court time in the small claims system. Volunteer mediators will be available to mediate cases on specified small claims and law magistrate court calls. While the program was designed to assist parties who appear pro se at the initial return date, this service may be offered to any other small claims or law magistrate case the judge deems as appropriate for mediation or wherein the parties themselves agree to participate in the mediation process.

 

The 19th Judicial Circuit and the LCBA collaborated on the presentation of a Small Claims Mediation Seminar on April 13, 2012. The seminar allowed 33 members of the LCBA to be trained as Small Claims Mediators for the 19th Judicial Circuit's Small Claims Mediation Program. Another 24 LCBA members have already been trained and are eligible for the program, resulting in a total of 57 volunteer mediators available to serve. The program is scheduled to start on Thursday, June 7, 2012, and will be held on all subsequent Thursdays, excluding holidays.

 

In the newly established probate mediation program, a neutral mediator is selected from a mediator list to assist the parties in reaching a mutually acceptable agreement. The role of the mediator includes assisting the parties in identifying issues, fostering joint problem–solving and exploring settlement alternatives. The mediation process is non-adversarial and informal, as well as faster and less costly than a trial. Mediator petitions for certification as a court approved mediator are now available on the 19th Judicial Circuit Web Site. Mediator lists will be available at the Lake County Arbitration Center or at the 19th Judicial Circuit Web Site. The first mediations began taking place in February 2012.

 

In January 2012, the JIS division installed an automated registration sign-in procedure utilizing digital ink technology in Kids’ Korner.  This automated system enables parents to sign-in their child into Kids’ Korner and with this applied technology the registration form can be printed in a computerized printed form at their next visit.  All data entered is captured and stored in a database. This system provides benefits which include; reducing the time needed to check a child into Kids’ Korner, improving the accuracy of information gathered, and providing for data accessibility in the future.

 

2011

 

An arbitrator training program was held on October 21, 2011 that added 23 arbitrators to the current rolls of almost 450. Judge Mullen, Judge Winter, and Judge Berrones all participated in training the new arbitrators. Judge Santi, ret., who helped to design the original arbitration program in the 19th Judicial Circuit also participated in the training. 

 

In August of 2011, the new Veteran’s Treatment Court was established as part of the various specialty courts within the Circuit Court of Lake County.  The program is designed to help veterans in the criminal justice system with services such as drug and alcohol treatment, mental health counseling, employment and educational assistance.  In addition to the Veteran's Treatment Court the other specialty courts include the Therapeutic Intensive Monitoring (T.I.M.) courts which include the Drug Court and Mental Health Court.

 

Lake County received grant money from the Federal Government to improve energy efficiency and conservation. Working with the County Facilities Department, the Judicial Operations Division coordinated the replacement of lighting in the chambers and office areas of the Main, Annex and Babcox Center courthouse with high-efficiency ballasts and lamps. The two-month project began in April and was completed in early June.  Court operations remained uninterrupted throughout the project. The combined savings from the conservation efforts which also included replacement of the HVAC system is projected to save $137,000 annually in the court’s area alone.

 

In April 2011, the Judicial Operations division in conjunction with the Judicial Information Systems division released the Report of the Judiciary.  The Report of the Judiciary replaces the Annual Report which had been done since 1983.  Eliminating the cost of printing and use of resources, the new Report of the Judiciary format utilizes the internet to allow the public to be informed immediately about the 19th Judicial Circuit as new events occur. 

   

In 2011, the Caseflow Unit of the Judicial Operations division finalized its recommendations to reorganize the Park City Branch court calls.  The recommendations were approved by the Presiding Judge of the Traffic Division and later by the Chief Judge.

 

The changes were necessitated by the need for additional courtroom space in the 19th Judicial Circuit. The changes included relocation of several calls to the Mundelein Branch court, the consolidation of some municipalities with other municipalities on different days within the Park City call and the elimination of some existing calls. 

 

Simultaneous to the reorganization of the Park City Branch court calls, and in response to the burgeoning Mortgage Foreclosure caseload as well as a dramatic increase in the number Arbitration filings, the Caseflow Unit of the Judicial Operations division finalized its recommendations for the reorganization of the Civil Division.  The recommendations were approved by the Presiding Judge of the Traffic Division and later by the Chief Judge.

 

The recommendations resulted in additional judicial resources and court time being devoted to the Civil Division in the timeslots that became available as a result of the Park City Branch Court reorganization.  This is the second time in the last two years the court has reorganized to provide additional resources in response to the mortgage foreclosure crisis.

 

All of these changes became effective in April 2011.

 

Continuing with our efforts to encourage our families to read together, Kids’ Korner celebrated Dr. Seuss’s birthday on March 2, 2011. With “Read Across America” as our theme, every child visiting Kids’ Korner chose a Dr. Seuss book to take home. Children also received a Dr. Seuss bookmark, “I Love to Read” stickers and Dr. Seuss pencils. Again, thanks to generous donations, children were able to choose these special Dr. Seuss books for the entire month of March.

 

Well over 200 handmade fleece hat/scarf/glove sets were lovingly made and donated by “Caring Hands,” a volunteer group from Christ Lutheran Church, Vernon Hills, to be donated to our families during the cold winter months.

 

Kids’ Korner celebrated National Children’s Dental Health Month for February 2011 by distributing toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss and an instructional sheet on “How to Brush” to every child visiting Kids’ Korner for the entire month. Parents were instructed on the importance of brushing. Posters and the room’s bulletin board were decorated with themes about the importance of dental hygiene. Generous donations by local dentists made this project possible.

 

2010

 

Upgrades to our Jury Management system, which were implemented in late 2009, have now been in operation for a year and the projected benefits of the enhancements have been realized. The two primary components of the system enhancements were: (1) web based communication options for jurors, and, (2) document imaging.  Jurors can now complete their summons response forms on line and can request disqualification, excuse or deferral in certain circumstances.  Approximately 40% of summons response forms are being completed on-line. Juror feedback has been very positive and has indicated that the on-line system is convenient and easy to use. This convenience has improved the return rate of summons response information since many find it easier and quicker to respond on-line than by mail. Document imaging has significantly streamlined paper handling and storage in our jury office. Manual data entry and filing has been significantly reduced by scanning and electronic storage of juror response information and supplemental documentation.

 

In conjunction with the Jury Management System enhancements, juror summons forms were revised to a scan able “user friendly” version and an informative summons insert was developed.  The revised summons form provides clearer information regarding criteria and documentation requirement for disqualification, excuse or disqualification. The summons insert was developed to provide clarity and to address frequently asked questions and concerns. 

 

Additional “work stations” and electrical outlets were added to the jury assembly room in response to increasing popularity. The number of jurors bringing laptop computers and utilizing the free Wi-Fi access provided for jurors continues to increase.  These amenities allow jurors who choose so to be productive during unavoidable waiting time often inherent to jury service.

 

In November 2010, law library staff coordinated and facilitated training of a software program available on the law library computers. The commercially available product is used to calculate the financial aspects of a prospective divorce. The ninety minute training was offered twice during the month for attorneys and patrons interested in learning the software.

 

In October 2010,  law library staff made a presentation about the available services and resources the law library has to offer to the Legal Writing and Research Class as Columbia College of Missouri, Grayslake, Illinois.

 

In October 2010, the Civil Division added additional judicial resources and court time based on recommendations made by the Caseflow Unit of the Judicial Operations division.  The recommendations were approved by the Presiding Judge of the Civil Division and later by the Chief Judge.

 

Prior to implementation of the recommendations, a single judge was assigned to handling all of Small Claims, Forcible Entry and Detainer (evictions), name changes and post-judgment cases. This caseload averaged approximately 21,000 filings handled by a single judge.  The adopted recommendation reassigned a judge from another position and divided the 21,000 caseload between two judges. 

 

Also in October 2010, a ribbon cutting ceremony was held at the Family Visitation Center of Lake County located in Mundelein, Illinois.  In late 2008, Lake County was awarded a grant from the Office on Violence Against Women to open a supervised visitation and neutral exchange center for families with a history of domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault and stalking.  Partnered with the Lake County domestic violence organization A Safe Place and an advisory board comprised of interested community members, the Judicial Operations division has been involved in coordinating the project and the required grant reporting.  

 

Over the past two years activities have included conducting a needs assessment, seeking a suitable location and development of the policies and procedures of the neutral exchange center.  In July 2010, the site selection and the policies and procedures of the center received approval from the Office of Violence Against Women allowing the project to move forward, sign a lease agreement and hire staff.

 

Kids’ Korner was founded to address the needs of children in the courthouse; to protect children from confusing, frightening, and inappropriate adult business or behavior.  In August 2010 Kids’ Korner reached a milestone; since opening our doors in 1994 Kids’ Korner has provided a safe haven for over 35,000 children involved in the court system. 

 

Continuing with efforts to encourage families to read, Kids’ Korner celebrated Dr. Seuss’s birthday on March 2, 2010.  With “Read Across America” as the theme, every child visiting Kids’ Korner during the week of March 1-5 chose a Dr. Seuss book to take home. 

 

In February 2010, a Guardianship self-help desk was established to assist persons who want to establish a guardianship of a minor. The self-help desk was created with the cooperation of the Lake County Bar Association and is designed to assist pro se petitioners in filling out the necessary paperwork for guardianship and to help them understand the court process.  The self-help desk is currently operational one morning per week and is staffed by volunteers from the Bar Association and paralegals enrolled in the College of Lake County paralegal program.

 

In February 2010, law library staff made presentations about the available services and resources the law library has to offer to the Legal Writing and Research Classes of the College of Lake County paralegal program.

 

In January 2010, Law Librarian Peggy Grady attended the Access to Justice Workshop in Austin, Texas as a part of Team Illinois. Sponsored by the Access to Justice Foundation, the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts, Illinois Legal Aid, and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the workshop focused on developing relationships that enable public and law libraries to blend services to assist patrons in their quest for legal information as self-represented litigants in the courtroom. Later in the year, at the September 2010 Illinois Library Association conference in Chicago, Team Illinois lead a panel discussion about the Illinois Legal Aid Online and Access to Justice programs in Illinois. 

 

2009

 

The Kids’ Korner annual holiday season “Give-An-Animal-A-Home” project began in December 2009 and was extended to the months of January and February 2010. Each child cared for in Kids’ Korner was able to choose a new stuffed animal from under the Giving Tree providing it 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 provided through donations from the community.

 

In June 2009, uncontested mortgage foreclosure cases were moved from the main courthouse to the Park City Branch court.  The change was made due to the dramatic rise in mortgage foreclosure cases that necessitated additional judicial court time to handle the increase.  The move to the branch court doubled the amount of time available for the foreclosure cases to be heard. 

 

During 2009, upgrades were made to our jury management system and the system went live in November.  The upgraded system provides potential jurors with additional options for communicating with the jury commission.  Previously, jurors could only submit their juror response and profile forms by mail or fax.  Jurors can now also complete and submit their information on-line or by email.  They can also utilize these means of communication to request postponement or excuse in certain circumstances.  Juror feedback has been very positive, especially in relation to the convenience of being able to respond on-line.  This option has also improved the response rate of profile information since many find it quicker and easier to respond on-line than by mail.  Additional features of the upgraded system include imaging and archiving components which have significantly reduced the tasks of manual data entry and filing.

 

 

 
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News from the Judicial Operations Division