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updated: 2/10/2012 4:47 PM

Mary Jane Theis: Candidate Profile

Supreme Court 1st District (Fitzgerald) (Democrat)

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  • Mary Jane Theis, running for Supreme Court 1st District (Fitzgerald)

    Mary Jane Theis, running for Supreme Court 1st District (Fitzgerald)




Note: Answers provided have not been edited for grammar, misspellings or typos. In some instances, candidate claims that could not be immediately verified have been omitted.

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BioKey IssuesQ&A



City: Chicago


Office sought: Supreme Court 1st District (Fitzgerald)

Age: 62

Family: Husband John T. Theis Son Jack Theis Daughter-in-law Uma Amuluru My son Jack has twins: Kiran and Rohan Daughter Claire Merok Son-in-law Josh Merok My daughter Claire also has twins: Nora and Charlie

Occupation: Supreme Court Justice, State of Illinois

Education: Loyola University Chicago- Bachelor's Degree University of San Francisco- Law Degree

Civic involvement: Chicago Bar Association Illinois State Bar Association Women's Bar Association Illinois Judges Association Illinois Judges Foundation Appellate Lawyers Association

Elected offices held: 1983-1988 Associate Judge, Circuit Court Cook County 1988-1993 Circuit Court Judge Cook County 1993-2010 Appellate Court Judge, First District 2010-Present Supreme Court Justice, First District

Have you ever been arrested for or convicted of a crime? If yes, please explain: No

Candidate's Key Issues

Key Issue 1

Access to justice is the cornerstone of our system of justice, but study after study has shown that many people cannot afford legal representation.

In the past this issue has centered on the unmet legal needs of the poor.

But I believe we are at a point in our society where many people in the middle class have the courtroom door shut to them as well.

As a member of the Supreme Court Rules Committee I wrote Supreme Court Rule 756(f) which requires all Illinois lawyers to report the number of hours of free legal services they have provided each year.

The purpose of the Rule is to serve as an annual reminder that pro bono legal service is an integral part of a lawyer's professionalism.

Since the Rule was adopted in 2006, the number of hours of volunteer work has risen each year.

Last year Illinois lawyers reported providing 2.3 million hours of free legal services.

But pro bono work and financial support for organizations that provide legal services to people of limited means are not enough to solve this problem which undermines

faith in our system of justice.

Many states, and many countries around the world, have an Access to Justice Commission.

These groups provide helpful information to self-represented litigants and look for creative ways to reduce legal fees through limited representation agreements. If I retain my seat on the Illinois Supreme Court, my first priority will be to create an Access to Justice Commission for Illinois and to continue to encourage the bar to embrace pro bono work.

Key Issue 2

For the last 15 months I have been a member of the Illinois Supreme Court.

The Court not only decides the most difficult cases, but also administers the entire legal system.

When I joined the Supreme Court in November, 2010, I asked the other members of the Court to make the mortgage foreclosure crisis a priority.

A Special Supreme Court Committee was formed at my suggestion, and I took on the role as the Supreme Court liaison to the committee.

The Committee is approaching the problem in two ways. First the Committee is preparing proposals for new Supreme Court Rules. Second the Committee will propose standards and best practices for loan modification mediation programs that are being adopted in counties around the state. Public hearings are anticipated in the next few months.

Key Issue 3

Illinois courts must adapt to

current technology.

Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride has announced that improving Illinois courts through technology is one of his top priorities, and I have been working very closely with him on these initiatives.

The challenge has been that Illinois, unlike the federal system, is not a unified court system. In Illinois there are 102 counties, 23 circuits, five appellate districts - almost all with elected clerks. We have many different operating systems across the state that cannot communicate with each other.

On January 12, 2012 the Court announced a pilot program for electronic filing of documents in the Supreme Court. With this program we hope to build a more efficient way of doing legal business and eventually to extend that benefit to all courts in our state.

The pilot program is an excellent first step, but many challenges remain.

For example, the Court has not yet adopted a policy regarding public access to electronically filed documents, which often contain financial information identifying account numbers, PIN numbers, trade secrets, and other confidential information.

We are currently reviewing this policy.

We are looking at the PACER system,

used in the federal courts.

The federal policy also seeks to protect private information while ensuring public access.

I will continue to work with Justice Kilbride to strike a balance between transparency and privacy rights.

Questions & Answers

Do you favor the appointment of judges or do you prefer the election process' Please explain your answer.

As Co-chair of the Illinois State Bar Association's Special Committee on Judicial Selection, I have studied the selection process of every state in the country.

The short answer is that there is no perfect system.

With the exception of one or two states, every state in the country has some type of election process, including those that use the "merit selection" system.

In Iowa, for example, judges are chosen by the governor after a nominating commission identifies qualified candidates. After one year in office, and at regular intervals, the judges must run for non-partisan retention. In November of 2011, three justices of the Iowa Supreme Court

were defeated when national organizations spent large amounts of money to remove them because they had joined the unanimous decision to allow same sex marriage. The Iowa experience demonstrates that no system for choosing judges insulates the judiciary from politic I believe the biggest problem with our current system is that it is very difficult for voters to obtain information about the candidates.

People understand how important it is to choose experienced, qualified judges, but too often unqualified candidates have been elected.

The efforts by the media, the bar associations, and other groups to inform voters

are essential for a

judiciary that inspires the trust and confidence of the public.

What special qualifications or experiences make you the best person to serve as a judge?

The Illinois Supreme Court decides the most difficult, most challenging cases. The Court also administers the entire legal system.

It is essential that the people who sit on the Court have the experience and qualifications to do this important work.

I have been a judge for over 28 years, serving at every level of the Judiciary in the State of Illinois.

As an Associate Judge in the Circuit Court of Cook County, I heard misdemeanor trials and preliminary hearings. In 1988, I was elected to the Circuit Court, where I was assigned to both the Criminal and Chancery Divisions until 1993, when I was appointed to the Appellate Court, First District. I was elected to the Appellate Court in 1994, where I served for 17 years. When Chief Justice Thomas R. Fitzgerald retired in 2010, the Supreme Court appointed

me to fill his vacancy on the Court.

My performance as a judge has been evaluated many times by the bar associations and I have consistently received the highest ratings available.

Throughout my judicial

career I have been a leader of the bench and bar.

I was Committee Chair of both the Committee on Judicial Education and the Committee on Judicial Conduct of the Illinois Judicial Conference, and a member of the Supreme Court Rules Committee. I was President of the Appellate Lawyers Association and the Illinois Judges Association, as well as President and founding member of the Illinois Judges Foundation. I have been a member of the Board of Governors of the Illinois State Bar Association and the Board of Managers of the Chicago Bar Association and am a member of the Women's Bar Association of Illinois.

As chair and member of the Committee on Judicial Education, I have developed hundreds of seminars for Illinois Judges.

I have also taught numerous judicial education programs, as well as conferences and seminars for the CBA and ISBA, and at Loyola University School of Law, Northwestern University School of Law, and the John Marshall Law School.

The length and breadth of my judicial career, especially my

criminal court experience including my legal experience as an assistant public defender, set me apart from other candidates.

What are your thoughts on mandatory sentencing? Do you believe judges should have greater leeway when it comes to sentencing defendants' Why or why not?

It is the Legislature that decides sentencing ranges, not the Judiciary.

As a Justice of the Supreme Court I am often called upon to interpret sentencing statutes.

Therefore I decline to comment except to discuss a new approach to Illinois sentencing policy.

Last year the Legislature created the Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council.

The Council is composed of a nonpartisan group from all three branches of government.

The Council is designed to objectively inform the Legislature's sentencing and correction decisions.

The task of the council is to collect and analyze data, conduct correctional population projections, and produce fiscal impact statements for the Legislature.

The Council is specifically charged with ensuring that effective evidence-based practices are used in policy decisions and practices in the criminal justice system.

Hon. Gino DiVito is the chair.

The Council is currently in the process of gathering the necessary data and will make recommendations to the Legislature later this year.

I am sure the effect of mandatory minimum sentencing will be addressed in that report.

I applaud the Legislature's adoption of evidence-based sentencing.

What are your thoughts on the use of drug courts, domestic violence courts, veterans courts, mental health courts and prostitution courts' Have they been effective?

The Cook County States Attorney's Office prepares a semi-annual report on the effectiveness of the treatment courts. The last report measured the recidivism rates of defendants in drug court, mental health court and veterans court programs.

The statistics are striking. Felony convictions dropped approximately 80% for people who had participated in these programs.

Based on these results, I very much support the expansion of treatment courts.

The key to success in the planning of these programs is training for all the members of the treatment team, as well as providing necessary treatment.

While these programs have a financial element to them, the reduction in recidivism ultimately saves taxpayer funds. Perhaps in this time of limited Government resources, more should be done to pursue grants that might make treatment available to those who want and need it.

Do you support eliminating the ban on cameras and recording devices in Illinois courtrooms' Why or why not?

Illinois is one of only 14 states in the country that does not allow camera coverage of trials.

Our neighboring states of Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, and Kentucky allow cameras with varying degrees of limitations. Although the federal courts have had a history prohibiting cameras in all courtrooms, camera coverage recently was authorized on an experimental basis for selected jurisdictions, including the Northern District of Illinois.

The time has come for Illinois to join this national trend. The last time the Illinois Supreme Court considered this issue was in the late 1980's.

The Court rejected the proposal by a 4-3 vote. I strongly support a pilot program allowing extended media coverage in Illinois Circuit Courts.

Rules will be needed to implement this change. We should learn from our neighboring states.