Ann Maher Apr. 2, 2015, 11:41am

Court users across the state will soon be given a unique opportunity that normally only comes around on election day - they will get a chance to judge the system.

Between April 13 and May 1, detailed court user surveys designed to measure public perceptions and experiences will be distributed in the state's 24 Circuits across 102 counties.

The Strategic Planning Committee of the Illinois Judicial Conference, in coordination with the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts, developed the survey that will ask court users to give input on their personal experiences with their local court system.

The one-page, double-side survey will seek input from all courthouse users including attorneys, visitors, litigants, students, media and the general public.

“Our goal is to measure court users' opinions and gain insight into how courts are perceived," stated Chief Justice Garman in a press release. "It is the court’s obligation to be accountable and provide justice in a fair, equitable and expeditious manner, and, therefore, we look forward to the end results of this survey."

Garman added that after the surveys are tabulated - at Loyola University in Chicago - the high court can then decide "what action, if any, is necessary to improve and promote the public’s trust and confidence in the court system.”

Fourth District Appellate Justice Carol Pope, who chairs the Strategic Planning Committee, said the committee expects to tabulate 11,000 surveys to achieve a statistically meaningful sample.

She said the number of surveys distributed to Circuits was based upon the number of court filings in 2013.

In the state's largest Circuit in Cook County, there is an expectation that at least 2,000 surveys will be evaluated from there.

Chief Judge Dave Hylla, who presides at the Third Circuit which includes Madison and Bond counties, said that he will receive a total of 575 ballots. At minimum, there is an expectation that 350 surveys will be collected from Madison County and 75 collected from Bond County, he said.

Pope said that surveys will be distributed by staff or volunteers as users enter court, with the expectation they will be completed before users leave. Surveys are confidential and will be placed in ballot boxes.

According to the press release, the survey will help enable courts to measure and determine the quality of services provided by the court, and improve them where necessary.

"Such matters may include users’ views on how well they were treated, how easily they were able to obtain information, whether they felt their side was heard in court and whether the end result was fair," the release states.

Pope said the survey is broken into sections. The first one asks any user of the court what their perception was that day. A second part asks persons who had a case in court to assess their experience. A third part seeks demographic information; a fourth leaves blank lines for additional comment.

She believes the Illinois courts survey is a first in which a branch of government asks to be evaluated by its constituency.

The surveys will be in English and, at the request of the circuit, will be made available in Spanish and Polish.

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