An interview with Justice Garman

Three years ago when she became Chief Justice, Justice Garman set out three main goals for her tenure: expand E-Filing; expand the use of cameras in the trial courtrooms; and, improve and expand the use of technology in the courtrooms. Now that her term as Chief Justice has ended, Justice Garman feels “very good at how the Illinois courts have moved forward” on her goals.

Justice Garman anticipates the Appellate Court will meet its E-filing deadline of July 1, 2017. She feels equally confident that the trial courts in Illinois’ 24 Circuits will meet their deadline of having E-filing on line by January 1, 2018. She notes that the Supreme Court set a goal for E-filing back in 2002 and that the Court felt earlier this year that E-filing “needed to get done.” The Court set the deadlines it felt were needed to move the Illinois courts forward.

Justice Garman recognizes the continuing challenges of available resources, especially in the smaller, rural counties and of integrating the different technologies used in the circuits that already have E-filing systems in place. However, she says the E-file manager the Supreme Court has put in place will be able to have all of the systems speak to that integration. When the electronic systems are completed, she envisions lawyers in any part of the state will be able to file from their desks documents in any circuit court. Moreover, she envisions that lawyers will be able to access full text of documents from any case filed in any of the circuits right from their desks. She looks forward to the anticipated cost savings to attorneys and their clients when these systems are fully in place.

Extended media coverage of the trial courts is now permanent statewide, she says, with minimal problems. This media coverage availability is part of the Court’s goal of improving public access and knowledge of the judicial system.

Justice Garman is also “very proud” of the Access to Justice program that started as a committee and is now a division within the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts. That access work includes more than just the standardized forms to assist pro se litigants in representing themselves in a variety of case types.

Another positive she notes in the access initiative is the mostly positive responses (more than 12,000) to the Supreme Court’s user survey of litigants and court personnel. Justice Garman notes that the results from younger people and members of minority groups were not as positive as the responses from older people – something she sees as a challenge for the courts to overcome. Another positive she notes is the Supreme Court’s adoption of uniform standards of certifications for problem-solving courts throughout the State.

Justice Garman is also pleased with the Supreme Court’s road trips – taking oral argument sessions to various parts of Illinois – which she says were “overwhelmingly well-received.” Another initiative along this line is the Court’s “Law School for Legislators,” in which members of the Court will meet with new members of the General Assembly to familiarize them with the work and operation of the Illinois Courts.

A key initiative the Supreme Court recently announced is a review of pretrial services in the circuit courts based upon the Court’s commitment to evidence-based practices and programs to assist judges in evaluating defendants in the process of setting bonds. In addition to the statutory factors in setting bonds, Justice Garman and the Supreme Court want bond court judges to have as much information available as possible to make informed evaluations in determining which defendants could be released rather than incarcerated in the county jails. The goal, she told me, is to have the pretrial services program in place by the year 2020. Justice Garman believes bond court judges throughout the State “do an admirable job and take seriously protecting the public.” However, she wants judges to have the evidence-based tools available to assist them in exercising their discretion in determining the appropriate bond to set. Justice Garman stated firmly that “there is no question that judicial independence is critical,” in enabling judges to do their jobs and to continue to do their jobs well.

Also pleasing to Justice Garman is the continuation during her term of the “great collegiality” on the Supreme Court among seven people from distinct backgrounds who all “get along well and like each other.” That doesn’t mean, she told me, that there are not vigorous discussions and disagreements on issues. But, what is important to Justice Garman is that those discussions are “never personal.” That, she said, is what she was taught when she started practicing law 46 years ago: “Be a vigorous advocate, but there is no need to be disagreeable.”

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November 2016Volume 47Number 4PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)