Supreme Court forms commission to address access to justice

By Bethany Krajelis | Jun 13, 2012

The Illinois Supreme Court has created a commission to enhance, facilitate and promote equal access to the state's civil courts and administrative agencies.

The Illinois Supreme Court has created a commission to enhance, facilitate and promote equal access to the state's civil courts and administrative agencies.

The high court today announced the formation of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice, which will focus its efforts on all people, but especially those who can't afford legal services. The 11-member commission will be led by Jeffrey D. Colman, a partner at Jenner & Block LLP in Chicago.

"It is a very broad-based, diverse commission with expansive duties to recommend any kinds of proposals we can come up with to improve access to our courts for everyone," Colman said. "We will be exploring everything from the kinds of forms that are used and how those forms can be made simpler and easier to understand to language barrier issues. We are going to explore every possible idea that would help make the judicial system more accessible."

Chief Justice Thomas L. Kilbride said in a statement that the idea for the commission came from the Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice, a joint project of the state and Chicago bar associations, as well as the Chicago Bar Foundation. It has worked with Illinois Legal Aid Online over the past six years to establish legal self-help centers throughout the state.

While the coalition and "several other groups have made important strides in ensuring access to justice to the justice system," Kilbride said "the Supreme Court believes much more remains to be done."

Joe Dailing, executive director of the coalition, said while groups like his have been working to provide better access to the system for low-income residents, "having the Supreme Court behind it makes it much more significant. With that kind of support, you can do a lot more."

Dailing said that 26 states and Washington D.C. currently have commissions in place to address access to the courts. This issue, Dailing said, has become more prevalent as the tough economy has left an increased number of people throughout the state unable to hire attorneys.

With more people representing themselves in court, Dailing said it is important that the public understands the oft-complicated legal system. He said small changes, like simplifying certain procedures and creating standardized court processes, could make a big difference.

The court has charged the commission with a variety of tasks, including creating standardized forms and basic procedural functions, addressing the issue of accessibility to the courts in rural areas, assuring that legal self-help centers remain accessible and working with law schools to develop court-based programs to enhance access to justice.

Colman said today he has not yet spoken to any of the commission's other members, but hopes to organize a phone call soon to set up a time for the group to meet. He expects the commission will meet in the months and years ahead. The members' appointments range in length from 2013 to 2015.

Seven of the 11 members were appointed by the high court and the remaining members were appointed by the Chicago Bar Foundation, Illinois Bar Foundation, Lawyers' Trust Fund of Illinois and Illinois Equal Justice Foundation, four groups that provide funding to various legal aid organizations throughout the state.

In addition to Colman, the commission includes: Knox County Circuit Clerk Kelly Cheesman, Carbondale attorney Michael A. Fiello, Bloomington attorney Timothy W. Kelly, Chicago attorneys Jennifer T. Nijman and Michael A. Pope, McHenry County Chief Judge Michael J. Sullivan, First District Appellate Court Justice Mary K. Rochford and Cook County judges Leonard Murray, Daniel J. Pierce and Debra B. Walker.

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