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How do Illinois Courts work?

The Supreme Court functions as the highest legal authority across the state of Illinois. It therefore has the ability to oversee and review any decisions made by the Court of Appeals in the state. The Supreme Court can then settle disputes and interpret law when needed in order to resolve conflicts. The Court of Appeals then carries out a similar function over the lesser county courts, but only when one party decides to appeal a decision made. Legislature divides the state into six appellate districts. These lower courts are made up of the 102 superior and trial courts across the 102 Illinois counties. Other tiers of court include the Circuit Court and the Appellate Court.

Civil Cases and Small Claims

The structure of civil cases and small claims cases in the state of Illinois are vastly different, from the type of case heard to the sum of money at stake. For example, in Illinois, the civil court deals with cases in which the claimant is seeking $250,000 or above. However, the civil court can also deal with disputes over such things as property, name changes, and restraining orders. On the other hand, small claims courts in the state deal with cases in which the petitioner is looking for $10,000 or less. There are roughly 300,000 of these cases filed across Illinois each and every year. Some examples of these cases may include disputes over warranties, loans, deposits, contracts, injuries, damages, and more, as long as the value remains under $10,000. The small claims court also has the power to order a defendant into an action, such as paying back a fee.

Appeals and court limits

The court limits and appeals processes in civil and small claims courts also differ greatly in the state of Illinois. Only the sued party may appeal a decision made in small claims court, while either party can appeal in civil court. In civil court, pretrial discovery is allowed, although not in small claims cases. Those in civil court may also hire a lawyer to represent them and file papers on their behalf, however, neither of these things are allowed in small claims court. There is a filing fee of $30-$100 for small claims in Illinois, after which point each side is given 30-70 days to complete their case. Contrastingly, civil court charges between $180 and $320 per claim filing, after which the two parties are given up to 120 days to complete their cases.

Why are court records public?

The state legislature in Illinois passed the Illinois Freedom of Information Act back in 1800. However, the most recent changes came in 1984, and the latest law was enacted in 2009, coming into effect in 2010. The act was introduced to ensure that all members of the public had the fundamental right to access any and all public records held by the local and state government. Not only does this promote a sense of transparency between the state and the public, but it also safeguards government accountability.

To access records:

Supreme Court Building 
200 E. Capitol Springfield, IL 62701 
(217) 782-2035 
TDD (217) 524-8132 
Office Hours:  8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.


Illinois Court Structure
Illinois State Archives

State Archives

Contact: (872) 204-1838

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The Illinois Washington County Courthouse was first built in 1818.

  • The Illinois Court system consists of three types of courts. They are the Supreme Court, the Appellate Court, and the Circuit Courts.
  • The Supreme Court of Illinis has 7 judge positions, each of whom serve a 10 year term. . 
  • The Supreme Court is separated into 5 districts, each of which contain multiple counties. The exception is the 1st District that represents only Cook County. 
  • The Illinois Appellate Court has 52 judges and serves five districts across the state. 
  • The 5 Appellate Courts are based, in order, in Chicago, Elgin, Ottawa, Springfield, and Mount Vernon.