January 2012 • Volume 100 • Number 1 • Page 10
Thank you for viewing this Illinois Bar Journal article. Please join the ISBA to access all of our IBJ articles and archives.
New rules for prosecuting local ordinance violations
The new supreme court rules bring consistency to ordinance violation proceedings around the state, a proponent says.
Along with rules authorizing the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission to prosecute actions for the unauthorized practice of law, on December 7, 2011, the Illinois Supreme Court adopted new rules that unify the procedure for prosecuting local ordinance violations. The series is SCR 570-579, effective immediately.
"[C]onsistency and authoritativeness"
SCR 570 sets forth the applicability of the series. The new rules govern ordinances passed pursuant to section 5-1113 of the Counties Code (55 ILCS 5/5-1113), section 1-2-1 of the Illinois Municipal Code (65 ILCS 5/1-2-1), and section 11-1301 of the Illinois Vehicle Code (625 ILCS 5/11-1301), as well as to ordinances passed pursuant to a unit of local government's home rule authority, as long as the penalty does not include the possibility of a jail term.
The series does not apply to administrative adjudications. As the committee comment states, the rules apply to parking violations but not to traffic or conservation offenses.
"These rules have been in the works for more than eight years," said Champaign lawyer and ISBA Local Government section council chair Mark Palmer. "We're very happy to see them adopted."
Two goals underlay the rules proposal, Palmer explained: first, ensuring that courts would apply consistent procedures around the state to ordinance violation matters, and second, providing a single authoritative source for those procedures. Before the adoption of these rules, "Neither judges nor lawyers necessarily had a good understanding of what standards to apply to ordinance violations," he said. "If a judge raised a question, such as what's the burden of proof, is there a right to a jury trial, or is there a right to appointed counsel, the municipal prosecutor may not have known the answer because it hadn't come up before.
"So the judge would have to stop the proceeding, have the parties go do research and brief it, and then come back and discuss it. The case law might be reliable, but it was difficult to have consistency within a courthouse, let alone the circuits of the state, in its application."
The new rules eliminate such problems. "Now, we finally have rules that judges and the parties can turn to," he said. "We have both consistency and authoritativeness, all in one place."
"Make sure your municipality's forms comply"
While courts have generally described ordinance violation cases as quasi-criminal, Palmer suggests that new SCR 572 strengthens at least one civil aspect. The rule, he notes, sets forth the requirements for charging documents. It permits courts to issue either arrest warrants or default judgments for nonappearances. The latter, he believes, may prove more popular than the former.
"In the past, courts used criminal procedure for nonappearances in ordinance violation cases. If someone didn't appear, the court would issue a warrant and make them appear. The new rules affirm that the civil remedy is available as well. Now, if they don't appear, you can get a judgment against them, just as in a small claims case. But that means you must give them notice that that might happen."
To other lawyers who represent units of local government in ordinance violation matters, Palmer advises, "Make sure your municipality's forms comply with the rules."
At the same time that the supreme court adopted the 570 rules series and the rules regarding ARDC and the unauthorized practice of law, the court amended SCR 65 to clarify that judges who are guests of honor at fundraising events for organizations that are educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, or civic in nature and are not conducted for the economic or political advantage of their members may permit those organizations to mention the judges' participation as speakers or guests of honor in their promotional materials, invitations, and other communications related to the event.
The court also amended rules 526, 529, and 553 regarding bail for minor traffic offenses, penalties and costs on written guilty pleas in minor traffic and conservation offenses, and posting bail or bond in traffic, conservation, or other ordinance or petty offenses covered by SCRs 526, 527, and 528.
The rule amendments are available at http://state.il.us/court/SupremeCourt/Rules/Amend/2011/120711_Rule_Amendments.pdf.