Q&A with 20th Circuit Chief Judge Jan Fiss

By Ann Knef | Feb 22, 2005

20th Circuit Chief Judge Jan Fiss

Q. What are the qualities required for effective leadership in a high-volume circuit such as the 20th Judicial Circuit?

A. Communicate with all your judges about the job at hand and then get out of their way and let them do their job. I have 25 very talented jurists that do not need to be micromanaged.

Q. The "paperless imaging" pilot project has proven highly successful in your court. Do you foresee implementing high-tech operations in the Circuit's other courthouse?

A. I firmly believe that all our circuits' courthouses will someday be paperless because the system works so well and it is the future.

Q.Name some other accomplishments during your administration as
chief judge, for which you are extremely proud.

A.I am particularly proud of the following projects that have
occurred, or at least updated during my tenure.

I want to strongly emphasize that none of these projects would have been successful without the efforts of the various judicial committees and their support personnel. They are as follows: Jury Call In System; Mandatory Arbitration; Court Annexed Mediation; Both Juvenile And Domestic Violence Diversion Programs; Traffic and Misdemeanor, as well as the Child Support Fee Collection Committees that have resulted in the collection of hundreds of thousands of dollars in arrears.

Q.What impact do you believe congressional class action reform will have on St. Clair County?

A. There are short-range and long-range impacts on the St. Clair County civil courts as a result of the recent legislation.

In the short term, there has been a surge of class action filings.

Specifically, at the end of 2004, we had 21 pending class action lawsuits at various stages in the system. The Circuit Clerk's
Office tells us that about 30 class action cases have been filed
since it became likely that the Illinois law regarding class actions would be preempted by the new federal legislation.

We have experienced and knowledgeable judges that will be capable of handling the case load.

Q. What, if any, impact has the American Tort Reform Association's ranking St. Clair County as the number two "judicial hellhole" in the nation had upon your circuit judges?

A. Everyone should be aware by now that the American Tort Reform Association is not about justice, but political action to rid the courts of judges perceived to be unfavorable to the members of the United States Chamber of Commerce.

The judges are concerned about the "hellhole" name calling and feel that it is based upon the ATRA's continuing political agenda to attack judges.

The judges are perplexed at the accusations since they have no control over what cases get filed in the Clerk's Office.

Once a case is filed the case rises or falls on its own merits. All it takes to file a lawsuit is a complaint against someone and filing fee.

As a matter of fact, St. Clair County is a good place for doctors and class action defendants to get a trial.

Between the years of 1999 and 2004, nine cases against doctors and hospitals have been tried to jury verdict and seven verdicts were in favor of the defendants or doctors.

One of the nine cases resulted in a verdict against a doctor for $750,000 and the doctor did not appeal the jury's verdict.

The other case of this group of nine was against a hospital only and involved a dispute about whether a patient had been dropped and injured.

Two class action cases have been tried to verdict. Both resulted in verdicts for the defendants against the class.

Q. Do you have career aspirations to serve on a higher court? If so please explain.

A. I really have the best job in the world. Need I say more.

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