The Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice held a listening conference at the Northern Illinois University College of Law on Wednesday May 1, 2013. The event featured distinguished guests Chief Justice Thomas L. Kilbride and Justice Robert R. Thomas of the Illinois Supreme Court. Focused on improving access to justice, the Commission is actively engaged in conversations across the state of Illinois to hear about problems confronting the poor and vulnerable as well as possible solutions.
According to Chief Justice Kilbride, the idea for the Commission was brought to him at the initiative of the Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice to build significant steps throughout the state to improve access to the justice system, particularly for the poor and the vulnerable residents of Illinois. "The purpose is to make access to justice a high priority for everyone in the legal system. This includes judges, clerks, attorneys, other court personnel and even our law schools," he said.
NIU Law Dean Jennifer Rosato hosted the event at the law school and supports the efforts of the Commission. She highlighted the law school's own efforts to access to justice including the opening of its third legal clinic that will be launched in the fall 2013. The new NIU College of Law/Hesed House Community Law Center will be in partnership with Hesed House and Aunt Martha's Health Center in Aurora, IL, and will address the needs of the homeless community. The Zeke Giorgi Legal Clinic facility in Rockford, IL was opened in 2001 and houses the Civil Justice and Juvenile Justice Clinics.
Other distinguished speakers and panelists for the listening conference included Justice Mary S. Schostok (Illinois Appellate Court, Second District); Mike O'Connor (Prairie State Legal Services); Michelle Meyer (Mutual Ground), Patrick M. Kinnally (MCLE Board), Professor David Taylor (NIU Law), and Michelle Rock (Director, Illinois Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health and Justice). Danielle Hirsch, executive director of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice, along with Commissioners Chief Judge Michael J. Sullivan (McHenry County) and Hon. Debra B. Walker (Cook County) served as moderators for the program.
The program was well attended by area judges, attorneys, elected officials, and other legal professionals. Conversation centered on addressing the legal needs of the community including pro se litigants, pro bono clients, victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, non-English speakers, individuals with behavioral disorders, and victims of elder abuse. Ideas generated from presenters and attendees ranged from standardization of online self-help legal resources as well as documentation for pro se cases, encouragement of bi-lingual applicants in hiring for legal jobs, incentivizing or mandating pro bono work for new lawyers, and the opening of more small claims mediation firms.
The Illinois Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission was formed in 2012 in an effort to remove barriers and increase the ease of interacting with courts by those persons who can't afford lawyers to represent their interests and needs. It is made up of 11 persons, seven of whom are appointed by the Supreme Court, and chaired by Jeffrey D. Colman, a partner at the Chicago firm of Jenner & Block and long a champion of delivering legal services to those who cannot afford them.
This listening conference held at the NIU College of Law focused specifically on the needs of citizens within the Second District Appellate Court of Illinois. It is one of a series of listening conferences that will be held across the state, each one focusing on a particular Appellate District. Additional upcoming programs will be held from 1:30-4 p.m. on May 30th at U. of I., Urbana; June 5th at SIU, Edwardsville; and June 13th at The John Marshall Law School, Chicago.