Illinois Court Structure

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of Illinois consists of seven justices; three are elected from the First Judicial District, which is comprised of Cook County, and one justice is elected from each of the other four judicial districts, which geographically are the same as the four appellate districts located outside Cook County. The four judicial districts outside Cook County by law are to be comprised of substantially equal population and the constitution provides that each shall be compact and composed of contiguous counties. Cases decided by the Supreme Court require a four-justice majority for a decision. The members of the Supreme Court elect a Chief Justice who serves a term of three years and he or she presides over their proceedings and assigns opinions to be written by a member of the majority on each case.

The Supreme Court may exercise original jurisdiction in cases relating to revenue, mandamus, prohibition or habeus corpus. Any appeal from the imposition of a death sentence shall go directly before the Supreme Court from the Circuit Court and the Supreme Court by constitution is empowered to provide for other direct appeals by rule adopted by the court.

Appeals from the Appellate Court to the Supreme Court are a matter of right if a question under the constitution of the United States or of the state arises for the first time in and as a result of the action of the Appellate Court or if the Appellate Court panel deciding a case certifies that a case decided by it involves a question of such importance that the case should be decided by the Supreme Court. In all other instances the Supreme Court may provide by rule for appeals from the Appellate Court and may decide on an individual case basis to accept an appeal.

The Supreme Court of Illinois, in addition to being the state’s highest court, is responsible for the state’s unified trial court and Appellate Court. General administrative and supervisory authority over the court system is vested in the Supreme Court. Several advisory bodies assist with this mission by making recommendations to the court. These include the Judicial Conference of Illinois and the various committees of the court. The Supreme Court also makes appointments to other committees, commissions and boards.

The chief justice is responsible for exercising the court’s general administrative and supervisory authority in accordance with the court’s rules. The Supreme Court appoints an administrative director to assist the chief justice in his duties. The staff of the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts support this function.

Key support personnel exist at each level of the court to assist judges with the administration of justice. At the Supreme Court level, this includes the Clerk of the Supreme Court, research director, marshal, and Supreme Court Librarian and their staffs.

Appellate Court

The overall number of Appellate Judges varies within the five appellate districts depending on population and case load as reviewed from time to time by the Supreme Court. Each appeal to the Appellate Court is heard by a panel of three Appellate Judges and a majority of two is necessary for a decision.

Appeals from final judgments of a Circuit Court are a matter of right to the Appellate Court in the judicial district in which the circuit is located, except in those cases for which the law provides for a direct appeal to the Supreme Court. The state may not appeal a judgment of acquittal in a criminal case. The Supreme Court also has the power to provide by rule for appellate procedure and certain important issues may be considered on what is called an interlocutory appeal.

Adams County and the Eighth Judicial Circuit are part of the Fourth Appellate District, which is a large geographical area comprised of 31 counties reaching from the Mississippi River on the west to the Indiana border on the east. The Appellate Court for the Fourth Appellate District is located in Springfield, Illinois.

Appellate Judges are elected at large in all of the counties of the judicial district. At the Appellate Court level, the Presiding Judge and judges of each appellate district are assisted by a clerk of the Appellate Court and research director and their staffs appointed by the Appellate Judges. Appeals enter the clerk’s office where deputy clerks assign them filing schedules and actively monitor and review cases as they progress through record preparation, motions, briefing, and oral arguments. Problems such as late filings, jurisdictional defects, inadequate records or noncompliant briefs are referred to the court. After the court has heard an appeal, the clerk’s office issues the court’s decision and tracks all post-decision activity. The court also manages the court’s computerized and manual record keeping systems and oversees the maintenance of physical facilities. The clerk responds to requests and questions concerning the court’s cases and procedures. The research director oversees a staff of attorneys and secretaries providing centralized legal research to judges.

Circuit Court

The Circuit Court is the trial court of general jurisdiction in the State of Illinois which initially hears all cases filed other than those for which the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction. (For example, redistricting of the General Assembly.) The Circuit Court is comprised of Circuit Court Judges and Associate Judges. Resident Circuit Judges are elected in one county. Judges of the Circuit Court are elected in all of the counties of the circuit and each have the same jurisdiction to hear cases. After first being elected in a general election on a partisan ballot, Circuit Judges must be retained every six years by receiving at least 60 percent yes votes from those who vote on their retention. All Circuit Judges run for retention in the entire circuit.

Associate Judges are elected by the Circuit Judges and serve four-year terms and have general jurisdiction to hear all cases other than those criminal cases (felonies) which carry a penalty of incarceration in the department of corrections for one year or more. Associate Judges can and many are certified by the Illinois Supreme Court to hear felony cases as well.

Each circuit, of which there are 21 in the State of Illinois, has a Chief Judge who is elected by the Circuit Judges of the circuit. In the Eighth Judicial Circuit the Chief Judge serves a term of two years but can be re-elected to that position without limitation.

The Eighth Judicial Circuit is comprised of eight counties including, Adams, Brown, Calhoun, Cass, Mason, Menard, Pike, and Schuyler. Each of the 102 counties within the State of Illinois also have a circuit clerk whose duties, among others, is to maintain all court records, court files, and receipt of funds paid as a result of the court cases handled by the judges.