My term as Chief Judge began on May 1, 2012. During my term, our courts, citizens and attorneys will face many changes and challenges. One major change will be the expansion and enhancement of courthouse facilities. This will include the construction of a new nine story criminal courts building.
The changes have been in the planning stages for several years. Our current space is inadequate and we do not have sufficient courtrooms to conduct our daily business. The County Board and County Administration have addressed many of our needs by adding quality branch courts in Mundelein, Round Lake Beach and Park City. We are now engaged in an ongoing planning process to expand the courts on the footprint in downtown Waukegan. The Facilities Committee of the LCBA has met with Judge Rossetti and myself several times to provide input for the projects. Tangible results of efforts to date include the following:
Court Administration: Administrative offices have been relocated from the first floor to offices on the second, third and fourth floors of the main courthouse and the Courts Annex. A small Court Administration office is located on the Courts side of the building, first floor center, to help the public with general court information and directions. Kids Korner has been relocated to space once occupied by Court Administration, and an additional family courtroom, Courtroom C-102, and judge’s chambers have been constructed on the first floor. The Jury Commission remains unchanged.
Civil/Law Division: Judge Margaret Mullen remains as Presiding Judge of the Division. After review by Court Administration and Case Management, the Circuit Judges agreed to move the Probate/Arbitration call from the Tenth Floor County Board Room to the Park City Branch Court. There are now three Chancery calls – one call in Courtroom 301 and Courtroom 302 and the third call is held in the County Board Room.
Criminal Division: The Felony Division and Misdemeanor/Traffic Division have merged into one division, the Criminal Division. Judge Victoria Rossetti remains Presiding Judge, Judge John Phillips as the Supervising Judge of Specialty Court Cases, Judge George Bridges as Supervising Judge of Felony Cases, and Judge Daniel Shanes as Supervising Judge in Misdemeanor/Traffic. Domestic Violence cases are now part of the Criminal Division where backup is provided by other Criminal Division judges.
Family Division: During the construction of the new first floor courtroom, C-102, and the addition of the judge’s chambers, an additional backup judge was added for a total of six judges. Judge Ukena continues as the Presiding Judge of this Division.
Juvenile Division: As renovations and upgrades continue in the Juvenile Division located in Vernon Hills, Judge Valerie Ceckowski will continue as the Presiding Judge.
In addition to these changes, the judges are committed to working with the LCBA Technology Committee, the Circuit Court Clerk, and the County to address an upgrade in court technology and accessibility to court records. With the assistance of the National Center for State Courts and the Illinois Supreme Court Administrative Office, public access online to court records began in June 2013. It is anticipated that E-Filing will be implemented by year’s end.
I with the Presiding Judges of the Criminal Division, Civil Division, and Family Division, and in conjunction with LCBA committees, continue to work to improve case management and the tracking of cases. Our goal is a more efficient system to deal with complex litigation.
One additional challenge we faced this year was the directive from the Supreme Court to provide access to cameras in the courtroom. The Nineteenth Judicial Circuit was approved to permit “Extended Media Coverage” in its courtrooms in January 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. Approved Requests for EMC via “still photography” began in April, and the first “audio/video streaming” covered a murder trial in May 2013. Several Requests for EMC are filed weekly.
The Judges of the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit commend the County Board and Administrator, elected officials, our justice partners, our staff and the citizens of Lake County for their support and guidance. In return, we commit to a court system that assures fairness, efficiency and justice.