When it comes time for briefing, Illinois practitioners will find a dearth of State case law as compared with federal decisions. In part, this is due to the fact that federal trial courts may have their opinions published whereas Illinois trial courts rarely issue written opinions, let alone have them easily accessible online. Considering that the Circuit Court of Cook County – the nation’s second largest unified court system – still uses handwritten orders and carbon paper, this is hardly surprising. Yet, when crafting an argument, perhaps the most aggravating stumbling block has been Illinois Supreme Court Rule 23.
Due to the fact that research was primarily limited to books, in the 1990s the Illinois Supreme Court decided to limit the number of precedential decisions because, according to Chief Justice Michael A. Bilandic there was “an avalanche” of Appellate Court decisions that were too lengthy for publication in the reporters. As a result, a substantial number of appellate decisions were tacked with the Rule 23-U designation, which prohibited parties from citing the opinions except in very narrow circumstances. In the past decade, books have been largely abandoned in favor of online research services. Thankfully, the Illinois Supreme Court has now recognized that these technological changes have effectively rendered the original purpose for Rule 23 moot. As a result, effective January 1, 2021, Rule 23 has been amended to allow practitioners to cite such cases for their persuasive value, which is a pragmatic amendment that will benefit parties and practitioners by providing greater guidance. Additionally, for the first time in two decades, Cook County has a new Circuit Court Clerk. Iris Martinez assumed the office of Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County in December 2020.
The outgoing Clerk, Dorothy Brown’s tenure was marked by a number of scandals and criticisms levelled at her office for cumbersome processes and archaic systems. While other Illinois circuit courts had already implemented call-in procedures for certain proceedings, it took a global pandemic for Cook County to utilize remote hearings. Indeed, many judges now require electronic courtesy copies and their clerks have taken to corresponding with attorneys by email. Ms. Martinez campaigned on a promise to modernize Cook County’s technology. This past year revealed that the Cook County Circuit Court Clerk’s office can move rapidly when necessary. Perhaps with Ms. Martinez at the helm, the Clerk’s office will finally address many of its longstanding technological deficiencies to increase accessibility and streamline proceedings. We are particularly interested to see if the Clerk creates online access to case files, streamlines the existing e-filing system, if Zoom hearings continue, and, of course, if carbon paper will finally be retired.