University of Denver

Civil Justice Reform Efforts in Illinois Show Benefits of New Case Management Tools and Technology

Manager

In June, the National Center for States Courts (NCSC) released the second in a series of evaluations of civil justice reform demonstration pilot projects around the country: Civil Justice Initiative: Evaluation of the Civil Justice Initiative Project (CJIP) for the 22nd Judicial Circuit of Illinois.

The pilot, located in McHenry County, Illinois, implemented all 13 recommendations from the Civil Justice Initiative (CJI) Implementation Plan, endorsed by the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA). The recommendations were designed to transform the civil justice system in our state courts to meet the challenges of contemporary civil caseloads and the needs of those who come to the courts for resolution of their disputes.

The 22nd Circuit was unique compared to other jurisdictions in that they had no backlog of cases, allowing the pilot to take a more proactive approach to reform. The pilot primarily focused on implementing civil case management teams, tools, technology, and the pathways approach.

Case Management Teams

At the beginning of the pilot project, the court hired a civil case manager to specifically assist the court administrator and chief judge in carrying out the recommendations. This civil case manager was ultimately responsible for triaging and monitoring the progress of cases before the court. The civil case manager then organized CJIP teams consisting of the judge, their staff, and attorneys with specific experience in the 22nd Circuit, to identify problems in each court. The civil case manager also facilitated discussions for solutions such as using template letters and orders to streamline routine issues.

Case Management Tools

The court used tools to track specific milestones for cases including times to disposition, numbers of cases exceeding the disposition guidelines, pending caseloads, ratio of cases set for trial and the result, aging cases report, and a list of cases with each case’s history. Standing orders were created for every court and were published online, and each order was tailored to the needs of the courtroom and CJIP team. Small claims dockets were also organized to allow judges more time to interact with unrepresented litigants. The Chancery CJIP teams provided educational materials for unrepresented mortgage foreclosure litigants. 

Technology

The court initiated mandatory e-filing for all parties, including unrepresented litigants, and set up multiple stations at the courthouse and a help desk to assist with e-filing. The court also allowed attorneys to submit proposed orders through email in routine matters. The court used Next Court Date Reminders via text or email to help ensure that parties could keep track of upcoming dates and deadlines. And, new judicial bench software allowed judges to use electronic files and notes. 

Pathways Approach

In the Spring of 2018, the pilot created four different pathways for cases depending primarily on the type of case and amount in controversy. The four pathways were designated as Expedited, Standard, Complex, and Custom. The pilot tracked the number of cases for each pathway as well as the disposition time for each pathway.

The evaluation contains significant outcomes from McHenry County’s efforts, including:

  • Increased attorney awareness of case movement and deadlines;
  • Judicial and staff attention to administrative orders and case reports;
  • Increased dialogue and buy-in around active case management; and
  • Significantly reduced time to disposition since project implementation.

The demonstration pilot projects, like this one in McHenry County, are a key component of the three-year project partnership between IAALS and NCSC in support of national civil justice reform. The two other pilots are located in Georgia’s Fulton County Magistrate Court and the Florida’s Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court, which was previously evaluated.