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Illinois Circuit Court General Information

The court of “original jurisdiction” is the circuit court. Effective December 3, 2012, as a result of Public Act 97-0585, Illinois is now divided into twenty-four circuits, six of which are single county circuits (Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will). The remaining eighteen circuits contain two to twelve counties per circuit.

In Illinois, the circuit court is the court of original jurisdiction. There are twenty-four circuits in the state. Six are single county circuits (Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will) and the remaining eighteen circuits comprise as few as two and as many as twelve counties each. Except for redistricting of the general assembly and ruling on the ability of the governor to serve or resume office, the circuit court has jurisdiction for all matters properly brought before it. The circuit court shares jurisdiction with the Supreme Court to hear cases relating to revenue, mandamus, prohibition, and habeas corpus. If the Supreme Court chooses to exercise its authority in a case of these types, the circuit court loses jurisdiction. The circuit court is also the reviewing court for certain state agency administrative orders. There are two types of judges in the circuit court: circuit judges and associate judges. Circuit judges are elected for a six year term and may be retained by voters for additional six year terms. They can hear any circuit court case. Circuit judges are initially elected either circuit-wide, from the county where they reside or from a sub-circuit within a county, depending on the type of vacancy they are filling. Associate judges are appointed by circuit judges, pursuant to supreme court rules, for four-year terms. An associate judge can hear any case, except criminal cases punishable by a prison term of one year or more (felonies). An associate judge can be specially authorized by the Supreme Court to hear all criminal cases. Circuit judges in a circuit elect one of their members to serve as chief circuit court judge. The chief judge has general administrative authority in the circuit, subject to the overall administrative authority of the Supreme Court. The chief judge can assign cases to general or specialized divisions within the circuit.

Circuit Court Administrative Matters

Conference of Chief Circuit Judges:The Conference of Chief Circuit Judges is comprised of the chief circuit judges from the twenty-four Illinois judicial circuits. Judge S. Gene Schwarm, Chief Judge of the Fourth Judicial Circuit, serves as chairperson of the Conference and Judge Elizabeth A. Robb, Chief Judge of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit, serves as vice-chairperson. The Conference meets regularly to discuss issues related to the administration of justice in the circuit courts and other matters referred to the Conference by the Supreme Court. The Administrative Office serves as secretary to the Conference.

Conference Committees and Activities: The Conference has several established committees which address particular issues, and provide information and recommendations. Committees active during 2012 include the Article V Committee; Chief Circuit Judges Manual Committee; Children and Families Committee; Planning and Programs Committee; Orientation Committee; and Technology Committee. From time to time, the Conference may establish an ad hoc or special committee to consider certain subject matter for a determined period of time. To that extent, the Conference established an Extended Media Coverage Special Committee to address issues related to the Supreme Court’s Policy for Extended Media Coverage in the Circuit Courts of Illinois.

During 2012, the committees of the Conference considered subject matter in several areas. The Article V Committee finalized a proposal to expand the Conference approved e-Citation pilot project to all Illinois State Police Divisions willing and able to participate, which was subsequently approved by the Conference. The Article V Committee is also considering recommendations for amendments to the Article V Rules of the Supreme Court, including an amendment to Supreme Court Rule 529(a) and (b) relating to percentage distributions for fines, penalties and costs on written pleas of guilty. As a result of Public Act 97-831, the Article V Committee also recommended changes to the uniform citations, which were approved by the Conference. The Extended Media Coverage Committee considered issues relating to objections, judicial discretion, voir dire, juror instructions and admonishments, and several other issues regarding cameras in the courtroom. The Article V Committee and Children and Families Committee, and generally the Conference, continued to monitor and analyze new legislation and Supreme Court rules relevant to the administration of justice in the trial courts. As necessary, related forms, policy, orders, etc., were modified in accordance with the new provisions. In addition, the Planning and Programs Committee, in collaboration with the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts and the National Center for State Courts, developed a strategic planning session for the Conference, which was held in June 2012. Finally, the Conference, as a whole, considered several areas such as disabilities accommodation policies/procedures for circuit courts; e-Business initiatives; Public Act 97-982 relating to appointment of a special prosecutor in the absence of the state’s attorney being able to perform functions; Public Act 97- 1131 relating to disqualifiers for FOID cards in certain misdemeanor domestic violence offenses; FOID audit by the Auditor General as it relates to individuals adjudicated as a “mental defective” or “intellectually disabled”; Public Act 97-761 which allows a chief judge to enter an administrative order to authorize collection of a $10 operations fee for probation and court services department operations; and the Judicial Privacy Act, Public Act 97-847.

In the interest of furthering the knowledge and skills of its members, the Conference hosted a variety of presentations focused on trial court issues. For example, the Director of Communications for the Supreme Court offered several presentations relating to cameras in the courtroom; a presentation was made concerning grant solicitation and operation by the trial courts; members from Juvenile and Adult Redeploy Illinois presented on sentencing alternatives and available resources; Illinois Family Violence Coordinating Council offered a presentation regarding its services related to domestic violence, elder abuse, and abuse perpetrated against women with disabilities; and finally, the Illinois Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health and Justice provided a presentation regarding its services aimed at equipping communities to appropriately respond to the needs of persons with behavioral health disorders who are involved in the criminal justice system.