The Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel (IDC) hosted its annual judicial reception Thursday in honor of Supreme Court Justice Mary Jane Theis.
Dozens of attorneys and area judges came to the event at Hinshaw & Culbertson in Chicago, where IDC President R. Howard Jump reminded attendants of the group’s No. 1 core value: to promote and support a fair, unbiased and independent judiciary.
“We’re here to reaffirm that core value,” Jump said.
In a prepared statement, he said that “an independent judiciary and an independent defense bar are of paramount importance to the IDC and its members.”
“For nearly 50 years, the IDC has worked to ensure civil justice for all,” he added. “We want to take time, not only to honor Justice Theis, but to remind ourselves that at the end of the day, bench and bar are on the same side, spending our professional lives serving the law and pursuing justice under the law.”
Steven M. Puiszis, a partner at Hinshaw & Culbertson in Chicago, said it is vital for attorneys to protect the independence of the judiciary. He serves as chair of the Defense Research Institute’s Judicial Task Force, which works to educate lawyers on the issue.
With vacant federal judgeships, threats of judicial impeachment, a funding crisis and situations like what happened in Iowa in 2010, Puiszis said it is more important than ever for attorneys to step up and protect the judiciary.
He said the advertisements that urged the public to vote against the Iowa justices up for retention focused on the political issue of gay marriage, rather than the law behind the court’s unanimous ruling and their qualifications.
Help from the statewide bar association to remind voters about what they were voting for “came too little, too late,” he said.
Because ethical rules prevent judges from discussing pending cases and defending their decisions, Puiszis said “that means we have to.”
Attorneys, he said, shouldn’t hold back from writing letters to the editor and opinion editorials to help defend the state’s judiciary.
After Puiszis, Jump and other IDC members spoke, Theis shared an update on some of the court’s initiatives with attendants of the reception.
Saying that the court under Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride’s leadership has made it a point to focus on “having a vision,” Theis said there will be a conference on the future of the courts in April to see “where we were” and “where we are going.”
The last time this type of conference took place, she said, was in 2003 and before that, in 1993.
Another aspect of the court’s desire to focus on a vision can be seen in the recently-formed Committee on Strategic Planning of the Illinois Judicial Conference, Theis said.
This committee has been charged with identifying trends and issues that could affect the courts and coming up with strategies to address them.
“We want your voices to be heard as we move forward,” Theis said.
She said the court made major headway last year when it came to electronic filing, something that has been on the many of the justices’ wish list for years.
Thanks to Kilbride’s leadership, the hard work of a committee that created statewide standards and a handful of pilot projects, Theis said circuits across the state can now apply with the court to use an e-filing system.
That development, as well as the introduction of cameras in courtrooms, shows that “we came a long way last year,” Theis said.
So far, she said, the court’s decision to allow cameras in certain court proceedings “has worked beautifully.”
The court also allowed for the first-time ever live video recording of an oral argument during the court’s January term, Theis said.
Noting that the issue in the case was standard of review and that the argument was in the morning, Theis joked she wasn’t sure how many people outside of her family tuned in.
Regardless, she said, allowing cameras in the courts gives the public the chance to see the system at work, which can go a long way in furthering the court’s mission of enhancing public confidence in the judiciary.
As part of the reception, Michael Resis, a partner at SmithAmundsen in Chicago, discussed IDC’s amicus involvement over the years.
As chair of the group’s Amicus Committee, Resis said the IDC files three to four friend-of-the-court briefs each year. Over the past three decades, he said the IDC has filed amicus briefs in at least 70 cases.
“I can’t say we won them all,” he said, “but we gave our perspective.”
Jennifer Gust of Hinshaw & Culbertson served as chair of this year’s IDC Judicial Reception Committee.