Structure of the Illinois Court System

Article VI, the Judicial Article of the Illinois Constitution of 1970, provides for a unified, 3-tiered judiciary - Circuit Court, Appellate Court, and Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court

The Illinois Supreme Court is the highest court in the State. Cases are normally channeled to the Supreme Court from the Appellate Court, but in cases where a Circuit Court has imposed a death sentence the law allows direct appeal to the Supreme Court, bypassing the Appellate Court. The Supreme Court can pass rules to allow direct appeals in other cases.

The Supreme Court has original and exclusive jurisdiction in matters that involve legislative redistricting and determining the ability of the Governor to serve in office. The Supreme Court also has discretionary original jurisdiction in cases relating to State revenue and writs of mandamus, prohibition, or habeas corpus.

The Illinois State Supreme Court is comprised of 7 Justices; 3 represent the First Appellate Judicial District (Cook County) and 1 each represents the remaining 4 Appellate Judicial Districts. A majority vote of 4 is required to decide a case.

The Appellate Court

The Illinois Appellate Court is divided into5 Judicial Districts. Cook County comprises the entire First Judicial District, with the rest of the State being divided into the remaining 4 judicial districts of "substantially equal population, each of which shall be compact and composed of contiguous counties."

The Nineteenth Judicial Circuit and 5 other circuits comprise the Second Judicial District of the Appellate Court. View the Illinois Appellate District Map (PNG) for more information.

Any party has a right to appeal a decision of the Circuit Court to the Appellate Court, except the State's Attorney, who cannot appeal a verdict of not guilty. Attorneys present arguments to the Appellate Court about whether the trial court made an error in applying the law. They do not relitigate the facts of the original trial. 3 judges hear an appellate case and a majority vote of 2 is required to decide the case.

The Appellate Court affirms the trial court decision if it finds there has been no error committed in the application of the law, or if the error was so minimal that it made little difference in the outcome of the trial. The Appellate Court may reverse the trial court decision or remand the case for a new trial if there has been a substantive error in the application of the law. In this instance, the case is normally sent back to the Circuit Court for further action.

Currently, 1 judge from Lake County serves on the Illinois Appellate Court, Second District. The Honorable Mary Seminara Schostok was appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2008.

The Circuit Court

The State of Illinois is divided into 25 Judicial Circuits. Each Judicial Circuit is comprised of one or more contiguous counties. Circuit Courts, also known as trial courts, are established within each judicial circuit. View the Illinois Circuit Courts Map (PNG) for more information.

The Circuit Court is a court of general jurisdiction, which means it has original jurisdiction in all matters except those limited cases in which the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction. The trial courts hear a wide variety of civil and criminal cases, ranging from small claim actions to domestic relations to criminal felonies.

There are 2 types of judges in the Circuit Court: Circuit Judges and Associate Judges. All judges must be licensed attorneys and are officials of the State of Illinois. Circuit Judges are initially elected for a six-year term, either on a circuit-wide basis or from their county of residence. Thereafter, every 6 years they must run for retention. The Circuit Judges elect a Chief Judge using guidelines established by local court rules; the Chief Judge provides administrative guidance to the entire circuit. Associate Judges are appointed on a merit basis by the Circuit Judges for a 4-year term. Thereafter, they are considered for retention by the Circuit Judges every 4 years. Associate Judges may hear all types of cases except felony matters, for which they must receive authorization from the Supreme Court.

Lake County is the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit. The Supreme Court may assign the judges of the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit to hear cases in any other county within the State.

The Circuit Court is part of the judicial branch of government. Financing is provided from 3 sources: (1) State funds which finance the Mandatory Arbitration Program, as well as salaries and benefits of judges and court reporters; (2) State funds which provide reimbursement to the counties to offset the costs of several positions in Court Services (Probation); and (3) county revenues. In order to maintain a productive organization, the judges and their staff work closely with the County Board and County Administrator's Office in the areas of automation, personnel management, budgeting, purchasing, and building maintenance. For more information, view the Organizational Chart of the Illinois Courts (PDF).