Illinois courts apply the law to specific controversies brought before them. Courts resolve legal disputes between people, companies, and units of government. They are also responsible for upholding limitations on the government and protecting against abuses by all government branches, including the executive and legislative branches.
The Illinois Court System has one supreme court, five appellate courts (excluding federal courts), and twenty-three circuit courts. The Illinois Supreme Court is the highest court in the state and is located in Springfield, the state capital. The Appellate Courts are in the state’s five judicial districts, while Cook County makes up the entire First Judicial District in the state. The Circuit Courts, also known as Trial Courts, are spread over the state’s twenty-four judicial circuits, which are divided among the five appellate districts. Although a few of the circuits have only one county, most circuits cover multiple counties. Each appellate district includes multiple circuits. However, the Circuit Court of Cook County is an exception, and it is the only circuit that falls under the First Appellate District.
The Illinois Supreme Court has seven justices. Three of them are elected from the First Appellate Judicial District (Cook County), and the other four are elected from each of the four remaining appellate judicial districts. A majority of four votes is required to decide a case. Each justice serves a ten-year term. Appellate judges are also elected, and each serves a ten-year term. The First District has 18 judges, while the other four districts have six judges each. The circuit courts are presided over by two types of judges, the Circuit Chief Judges and Associate Judges. Circuit judges are elected and serve six-year terms each. Each circuit has a chief judge elected by its circuit judges. Associate judges are appointed by circuit judges for four-year terms. An associate judge cannot hear criminal felony cases unless authorized by the Illinois Supreme Court.
In addition to state courts, there are also federal courts that hear appeals from the State Supreme Court as well as federal cases, usually pertaining to federal law and/or the federal judiciary
Each court in the judicial branch is responsible for documenting its judicial processes to ensure transparency. These records, known as Illinois court records, are maintained and disseminated by the administrative office of each trial court, federal court, district court as well as federal appellate court.
The Illinois Supreme Court
Illinois Supreme Court is the highest court of appeal in the state. It is located in the state capital, Springfield. As the highest court in the state, it has final appellate jurisdiction but limited original jurisdiction. The Supreme Court handles all appeal cases from the appellate courts and appeal cases from the circuit courts on special occasions. However, the court has mandatory jurisdiction in capital cases and any case where the constitutionality of U.S. laws is questioned. Illinois Supreme Court is the final court of appeal in the state, and its judgment is final and can only be reviewed by the Supreme Court of the U.S. A chief justice and several supreme court justices oversee its operations.
Illinois Supreme Court holds exclusive hearings for the following types of cases:
- Cases and appeals concerning the death penalty;
- Cases involving the bar and judiciary, judicial qualifications and certification, and original proceedings for writ applications;
- Appeals by permission and interlocutory appeals for civil, criminal, writ, and administrative agency cases, as well as a few cases on appeals by right
What are Illinois Appellate Courts?
The Appellate Court of Illinois is the court of first appeal for judgment passed by Illinois Circuit Courts for criminal and civil cases. Three appellate judges must hear the case, and two must agree to render a judgment that becomes binding on the lower court.
Illinois Appellate Court is organized into five districts.
- The First District Appellate Court meets in Chicago and has six divisions. Each division has four justices except the 4th division, which has three.
- The Second District Appellate Court has its seat in Elgin. It has only one division and nine justices.
- The Third District Appellate Court sits in Ottawa and has only one division administered by eight justices.
- The Fourth District Appellate Court meets in Springfield, has one division and seven justices.
- The Fifth District Appellate Court meets in Mt. Vernon. It has one division and six justices.
The Supreme Court assigns judges to the divisions, and the presiding judge of each division assigns judges to panels of three to hear appeal applications. The legislature determines the number of judges in the Illinois Appellate Court; currently, the number is fifty-four. Each district handles appeals for civil and criminal cases from circuit courts in the district.
The Supreme Court has jurisdiction to assign additional circuit, appellate, or retired judges to any district. An appellate judge is elected by voters in each district for a ten-year term and may be retained for an additional ten-year term. Each judge has a support staff of two law clerks and a secretary.
Each district manages its own operations, subject to the overall authority of the Supreme Court. In the first district (Cook County), an executive committee exercises general administrative authority. This committee elects a chairperson and vice-chairperson for one year. In the other districts, judges select one of their members to serve as presiding judge for one year.
What are Illinois Circuit Courts?
Illinois Circuit Courts are trial courts with general jurisdiction and can decide any kind of case, except cases involving redistricting the Illinois General Assembly and the State Governor’s ability to serve or resume office. Circuit courts share jurisdiction with the Supreme Court to hear cases relating to revenue, mandamus, prohibition, and habeas corpus. The Supreme Court may choose to exercise its authority in any of these types of cases in the state; on such occasions, the circuit court loses its jurisdiction. The circuit court also has jurisdiction to review the administrative orders of certain state agencies in the state.
Illinois has 24 Judicial Circuits, and each circuit has some counties under it. For four of these circuits, a single county covers the entire judicial circuit. These are Cook County (1st Judicial Circuit), Will County (12th Judicial Circuit Court), DuPage County (18th Judicial Circuit Court), and McHenry County (22nd Judicial Circuit Court). The other 18 circuits individually contain between two and 12 counties.
Illinois circuit courts have different divisions, including criminal, family, probate, law, chancery, and county divisions. The Circuit Court of Cook County is the largest judicial circuit in Illinois. Over 2.4 million cases are filed annually in its over 160 courts. It is divided into three departments, namely: County, Municipal, and Juvenile Justice and Child Protection.
The Municipal Department of the Illinois Judicial Branch
This is divided into six districts. The City of Chicago makes up the First Municipal District, while the other five districts cover the remaining communities in Cook County. Civil actions for damages up to $30,000 are heard by the Municipal Department in the First District and up to $100,000 in the remaining districts. The Municipal Department hears the following types of cases: ordinance and traffic enforcement, housing, small claims, licenses, eviction proceedings, cases subject to mandatory arbitration, misdemeanor criminal proceedings, and felony preliminary hearings. It does not handle domestic violence matters.
The Juvenile Justice and Child Protection Department (JJCPD)
The department is divided into the Juvenile Justice Division and the Child Protection Division. A presiding judge heads each division.
- The Juvenile Justice unit handles cases involving minors. Examples include runaway and rebellious minors, minors addicted to alcohol or other drugs, and minors who violated federal or state laws, county or municipal ordinances. The department also facilitates the rehabilitation of these juveniles through probation officers.
- The Child Protection Division handles child abuse cases, including child neglect, parental rights termination, child dependency, and private guardianship cases. The department has a Resource Section which liaises with the community to develop programs centered on juvenile justice.
The County Department
This is the largest department in Illinois Circuit Courts. It is divided into seven divisions, and a presiding judge heads each division. The divisions include:
- County Division: Case types include adoption, the marriage of minors, elections, inheritance taxes, mental health proceedings, real estate taxes, municipal organizations, and all actions involving the forfeiture of seized property, name changes. Also, the County division hears matters the Circuit Court has jurisdiction over but are not provided for.
- Law Division: Civil suits for monetary damages over $30,000 (in the city of Chicago) and over $100,000 in the other districts. The court hears various cases, including personal injury and wrongful death, motor vehicle injury, medical malpractice, and many more.
- Chancery Division: Handles a variety of cases regardless of the amount of the claim. It operates in two sections, the General Chancery Section, which hears such actions as creditors’ rights, construction of wills and trusts, trusteeships, receiverships, dissolution of partnerships and corporations. Others are injunctions, class actions, declaratory judgments, and contract matters. The Mortgage Foreclosure/Mechanics Lien Section decides on actions related to the Mechanics Lien Act, liens on chattels for labor or storage, and other lien remedies. It also decides on all actions and proceedings filed under the Illinois Mortgage Foreclosure Law.
- Criminal Division: Decides on cases that involve the commission of felonies (serious criminal acts), including armed robbery, assaults, burglary, criminal sexual assault, and murder. It has specialty courts, also known as the problem-solving courts. These courts provide mental health treatment, support for veterans, drug treatment, and support for women charged with prostitution.
- The Domestic Violence Division: The division hears cases on matters concerning civil orders of protection. It also handles criminal actions on relationships defined by the Illinois Domestic Violence Act. Examples include Class 4 felonies, misdemeanors, aggravated stalking, civil no-contact orders, stalking no-contact orders, and all matters through preliminary hearing or indictment where the most serious offense charged is a Class 1, 2, or 3 felony.
- The Domestic Relations Division: Case types include marriage dissolution (divorce), dissolution of civil union, child support, child custody and visitation, legal separation. Others include invalidity of marriage or civil union, civil orders of protection filed in conjunction with domestic relations proceedings, parentage. It also enforces and modifies previously entered judgments in the matters.
- The Probate Division: Hears and decides on matters involving wills and administration of estates. It handles such cases as contracts to make a will, construction of wills, probate, and contest of wills and testamentary instruments, claims against an estate arising in contract. Others include administering the estates of disabled persons, minors and wards, and decedents, actions arising under the Illinois Power of Attorney Act, and orders of protection filed in conjunction with a probate proceeding.
What are Appeal Court Limits?
Illinois residents have the right to appeal the judgments passed by judges in the state’s lower courts. This is done through appellate courts in Illinois. An appeal is a legal request to have a higher court review an already decided case to determine whether the lower court or tribunal made mistakes during the trial. The higher court may affirm, modify, or reverse the original decision. According to Illinois Supreme Court Rules (302), every final judgment of a circuit court in a civil case is appealable by right.
The appellant must file a notice of filing with the appellate court clerk, including a proof of service that indicates that copies have been sent to the appellee. A filing fee of $50 must be paid to the court clerk to file the docketing statement with the appellate court. Other documents filed with the appellate court include copies of requests made to the circuit court, requests to the court reporters to prepare the record on appeal, and the transcripts. Interested Illinoians are required to file their notices of appeal with the Offices of the Circuit Court Clerks within 30 days from when the final judgments were passed.
The Illinois Court of Appeal and Supreme Court require electronic filing of documents in all civil appeals, except in cases filed by incarcerated or self-represented litigants; wills; and documents filed under the Juvenile Court Act of 1987. These also include documents in cases where the court allowed paper filing through a court order.
For further information, appellants may contact the court clerk of the district closest to them. The First and largest Appellate District is based in Chicago and hears cases arising in Cook County. It is divided into six divisions, each with four judges. The clerk’s office and principal seat of the court are located at:
The First District Appellate Court,
Michael Bilandic Building,
160 North LaSalle Street,
Chicago, IL 60601.
Phone: (312) 793-5484
Office Hours: 8:30 - 4:30
Contact addresses of other appellate courts and their court clerks are available on Illinois Appellate Courts’ official website.
How Do I Find My Case Number in Illinois?
An Illinois court case number is issued by the clerk of the court where the case was filed. Case numbers are assigned to cases to differentiate them. Each digit represents unique information about the case. The first two digits indicate the year the lawsuit was filed, while the third digit is used to designate the case type. The next series of digits represent the actual sequential number of the case, beginning from 00001 in the current year.
To obtain a case number, you must request it from the Office of a State Court Clerk or County Clerk and pay the required fee. This may be done in person by visiting the office or mailing a request to the court clerk’s office. The Supreme Court Clerk’s Office is located in Springfield and Chicago. Interested applicants may visit either location at:
Supreme Court Building
200 E. Capitol
Springfield, IL 62701
Phone: (217) 524-8132
Office Hours: 8:30 – 4:30
Michael A. Bilandic Building
160 North LaSalle Street
Chicago, IL 60601
TDD (312) 793-6185
Office Hours: 8:30 – 4:30
In Illinois, some county courts have case number locators on their official websites.
Does Illinois Hold Remote Trials?
Yes, although partially. Before Covid19, Illinois Supreme Court Rule 241 and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 43 allowed video conference tools in civil cases, but only in limited circumstances. The Supreme Court Rule 241 provides that “a court may, for a good cause shown in compelling circumstances and upon appropriate safeguards, permit presentation of testimony in open court by contemporaneous transmission from a different location”. Ill. S.Ct. R. 241.
Since the onset of the 2019 coronavirus pandemic, many Illinois courts have fully adopted remote hearings through video conferencing, live streaming, audio, and sometimes phone calls. Illinois courts now open for emergencies only, and trial dates are communicated by mail and e-mail. In September 2020, the Illinois Supreme Court announced a temporary order to limit in-person court appearances and promote remote court appearances. This is to ensure the public’s health and safety while accessing the court during the COVID-19 pandemic. Update of each county’s response to this order is available for public access on the Illinois Courts website’s administrative page.
The temporary order addressed applications for waiver of court fees and summons to appear in small claims and consumer cases. Additionally, the apex court issued extensions for deadlines in the Appellate courts and the Supreme Court. The order details mandatory language that must be added to all summons in civil cases. This is to provide recipients with easy access to important legal information about representing themselves in court, e-filing, finding free legal help, and applying for a waiver of court fees.
More recently, on December 18, 2020, the Supreme Court approved Order M.R.18368. The new order provides a timeline for expanding the Remote Access Policy (RAP) for Illinois licensed attorneys and legal services providers in the state. This will further make remote access to court documents an alternative to in-person appearances at courthouses and give legal service providers the following:
- Access to all non-confidential documents in all case types via local Case Management Systems maintained by circuit clerks remotely over the Internet effective immediately.
- Access to the six (6) case types (Arbitration, Eminent Domain, Law, Law Magistrate, Municipal Corporation, and Tax) in all integrated and certified courts via Re:SearchlL. This will be provided no later than March 1, 2021, upon successful testing.
- Access to all non-confidential documents in all case types in all integrated and certified courts via Re:SearchlL. To be provided no later than July 1, 2022, upon successful testing.
To this end, all circuit and appellate courts have been mandated by the Supreme Court to become integrated and certified with re:SearchlL no later than January 1, 2022. These measures have been adopted to combat the Covid19 pandemic’s further spread and ensure the safety of court staff and the public who contact the courts.