SPRINGFIELD -- The Illinois Supreme Court has formed a committee to develop electronic ways to make the state court system more user-friendly and efficient.

SPRINGFIELD -- The Illinois Supreme Court has formed a committee to develop electronic ways to make the state court system more user-friendly and efficient.


Recommended by Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride and approved by the entire Supreme Court, the committee will be known as the Illinois Supreme Court Special E-Business Committee.


"E-filing and E-business have become frequently used terms throughout the court system," Kilbride said. "We have several pilot projects going on in Illinois, and the federal courts have a system that is widely used and lauded.”


Sangamon County Circuit Clerk Tony Libri says he’s all for it.


“We’re in total agreement with Justice Kilbride,” Libri said. “We believe automation is what’s going to save taxpayer dollars in the future.”


He said Sangamon County has a request in to the Supreme Court to become part of the pilot project for e-filing.


“We’ expect to be doing it by fall if everything is approved,” he said. “We’re hoping to get some kind of standardization.”


Kilbride said the goal of the committee is to speed up the study of existing e-business in the courts and to develop user standards, system guidelines and implementation plans.


Kilbride said he hopes e-filing can be instituted soon in the Illinois Supreme Court and after that in the state appellate courts.  The high court has approved a pilot project in DuPage and Ogle counties to transfer electronically the lower-court record of cases before the 2nd District Appellate Court.


 


No standardization


Because of the nature of both state and county funding of circuit courts in Illinois, Kilbride said utilizing e-business in courts throughout the state will take more time. There is no uniform system of e-filing in Illinois.


However, there are several jurisdictions, including the PACER system in the federal courts, that use electronic technologies, including e-filing. But there are special challenges in Illinois.


The state is comprised of 102 counties in 23 different circuit court jurisdictions and five appellate districts. Both the state and the respective counties provide money for the operation of the courts.


There are at least 12 different circuit court management software systems operating in the various jurisdictions.


"Not many counties have the funds right now, but in order for there to be a viable e-filing system in state courts, we have to get together to set up a framework so that all of the 102 counties in this state know when they invest and upgrade in technology, that it will work well for both lawyers and litigants … and be compatible throughout the state," said Circuit Judge Adrienne Albrecht of Kankakee, who heads the Automation and Technology Committee of the Illinois Judicial Conference.


“Many of our case management systems are based on old technology,” she said. “All the systems are in need of upgrading. We have to get ahead of the curve. We need to have standards in effect so that every jurisdiction can interface with another.”


She said court clerks, administrators, judges, lawyers and county and state officials need to be confident that when the funds are available for updating systems, the result will carry them forward.


5 pilot projects


Libri said Sangamon County’s current system is “the exception rather than the rule.”


“You can look at just about everything electronically,” he said. He added that the capability to display complaints and other documents electronically is next.


“We’re ready to do that at a moment’s notice when we get approval,” he said. “Everything we get right now is scanned and electronically filed, as well as having the paper copies.”


The new committee is charged with developing general guidelines on the use of e-business in the trial courts, appellate courts and supreme court. It also may recommend protocols relating to security issues.


There are five e-filing pilot projects under way in Illinois. They are in Cook, DuPage, Madison, St. Clair and Will counties. DuPage County was the first pilot project for e-filing in Illinois in 2005.


About 8,000 cases are filed there each month in electronic format, representing about 89 percent of all civil filings in the county, according to DuPage County Circuit Court Clerk Chris Kachiroubas. He said acceptance was slow when the project began, but younger attorneys embraced it and it now is the standard method of filing.


Libri said his office is working on several other “green initiative” projects such as the electronic filing of guilty pleas, court official signatures, and warrants.


“The e-filing will be the first big one we’ve done in a long time,” he said.


Chicago attorney Bruce Pfaff will head the Supreme Court committee. Among the seven other lawyers on the panel is Thomas Wilson, partner with the firm of HeplerBroom LLC in Springfield.


Chris Dettro can be reached at (217) 788-1510.


 


No more opinion books


The state’s high court took another step into the digital age last month, when it announced it will no longer have its official opinions published in bound volumes, but will instead make them available electronically.


The new way of officially citing Supreme Court and appellate court cases will eliminate the need to contractually publish and purchase the official opinions in book form. Illinois joins about a dozen other states that use the new method of case citation.


“The changes are reflective of the way we all live and the way the practice of law is changing,” said Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride. “So much legal research is now done online through references and sources available on the Internet, and even on smart phones, that it makes the publication and purchase of official printed volumes unnecessary and a waste of money and resources.”


The official body of Illinois court opinions will be available on the Illinois Supreme Court website effective July 1. The current contract for printing the advance sheets and bound volumes of Illinois court opinions expires July 31 and will not be renewed.


The changes mark an end to an era dating to 1831, when the first official volume of Illinois Reports was published.


The changes are part of a movement by the Supreme Court to integrate electronic technology with a goal of achieving greater court transparency and efficiency. The state’s high court was one of the first to incorporate Twitter in publicizing announcements and also was early in making video and audio recordings of its oral arguments available the same day they are heard by the court.


The audio of all appellate court arguments is also available on the court's website, www.state.il.us/court/.


-- Chris Dettro


 


Mentoring program for new attorneys


A program to mentor new attorneys will be announced today by Illinois Supreme Court Chief  Justice Thomas Kilbride  in Springfield.


The program, proposed by the Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism,  will link newly admitted attorneys with more experienced attorneys  to help them develop practical knowledge about the practice of law and to demonstrate appropriate professional behavior and attitude.


Illinois is one of only a few states to adopt such a mentoring program.