Judges required to take more continuing education courses

Ann Knef Apr. 4, 2006, 8:06am

The Illinois Supreme Court is requiring that all state judges take 30 hours of continuing legal education courses over a two-year period, addressing such issues as judicial conduct, ethics and professionalism.

Approximately 915 judges were notified by letter Monday in the wake of the court's September 2005 order requiring the same for all attorneys in the state.

Illinois Judges Association President James Wexstten said he favors the new requirement.

Wexstten, a Second Circuit Court Judge in Mt. Vernon, is an advocate for improving the public's image of the judiciary.

"It's important that people have confidence and pride in the justice system," he said.

All associate, circuit and appellate judges will fulfill the new requirement through the presentation of an expanded one-week, 30-hour Education Conference beginning in 2008. Currently, the conference is presented to judges every two years in a two-and-a-half day session.

Wexstten said he believes most judges "by and large" exceed the amount of time in continuing education over what is now required of them.

"A whole week in training -- that's intense," he said. "And that's good. The interaction judges will have with other judges will be very helpful.

He added that learning about professionalism and civility is "very timely."

Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Thomas said that under the new rules judges must study substantive legal matters, as well as matters relating to professional civility and courtroom management.

"At a minimum, judges should always be up to speed on the latest developments in the law," said Thomas. "At the same time, judges are in a unique position to foster a culture of professionalism and civililty."

When the Supreme Court announced the new rules requiring continuing legal education for attorneys six months ago, it also established a permanent Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism and required attorneys to take a minimum of four hours in the area of professionalism including sessions on issues involving diversity, addiction, civility and legal ethics.

The Education Conference will continue to be presented through the Illinois Judicial Conference under the auspices of its Committee on Education.

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