Minutes after swearing in Madison County's two new circuit judges, Chief Judge Ann Callis ushered in another sweeping reform.
Callis, who ran a successful reform-based retention campaign, announced the adoption of a mandatory arbitration program for the Third Judicial Circuit.
Based on successful pilot programs undertaken in 15 other Illinois court systems, the program is designed to expedite the resolution of cases in which the dispute is in excess of $10,000 but less than $50,000.
Parties will now be required to enter mandatory arbitration before proceeding to trial.
The program also will weed out any frivolous lawsuits filed within that dollar amount.
Since becoming chief judge in May, Callis has adopted rules limiting judge substitutions, out-of-state lawyers and cases filed under seal.
"I am pleased that the Supreme Court accepted our (new) proposal, and would like to thank Judge Stack and Judge Crowder, and all of the members of the ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) Committee for their diligent effort in getting this program off the ground," Callis said.
She added, "All of the circuit and associate judges, who were involved, are excited about starting Alternative Dispute Resolution in Madison County."
Effective Jan. 1 the Madison County Circuit Clerk's office will charge and collect an additional $8 fee in all civil cases which will fund the arbitration program.
"The program saves parties in small disputes significant time and legal fees," said Judge Daniel Stack in July, who co-chaired a task force examining the matter.
Stack and Judge Barbara Crowder, the other task force co-chair, reviewed St. Clair County's arbitration program, one the Illinois Supreme Court has deemed successful.
The task force, which also included area attorneys, also examined data the Supreme Court has collected from all 15 court systems that have thus far implemented arbitration programs.
Stack said the committee believes the court's existing facilities could accommodate the program.
"Our committee reviewed the space requirements for implementing an arbitration program and we believe we can begin the program with existing space at the new Criminal Courts building pending possible funding from the Supreme Court for space to accommodate future expansion of the program," he said.
Callis said the arbitration proceedings will begin no later than July 1, 2007.