I have two general judicial philosophies that will shape my decisions in cases. The first is that I intend to treat all who appear before me with respect and fairness. Regardless of someone's socioeconomic status, gender, race or any myriad of factors, everyone is entitled to the same fair treatment by a judge. Too often I have seen poor behavior in the courtrooms, from the judges, the attorneys and the litigants. Regardless of what is happening in the courtroom, I intend to give everyone the same respect in order to resolve the situation. My second general judicial philosophy is that I expect to follow precedent in the law and be predictable. This will allow those who appear in front of me to anticipate my rulings. The attorneys will know what to expect from me and in turn be able to better advise their clients. I will be fair minded, listen to the facts, and apply the law to reach a reasonable disposition. In essence, this is what I do at the Illinois Attorney General's Office.
DuPage County should bring back Night Court giving more residents greater access to the legal system. Night Court would give those that work during the day a better opportunity to appear without having to take time off of work. Finding child care in the evening hours is likely much easier because more friends and family are traditionally available. Night Court would allow for greater flexibility in scheduling for those that care for our most vulnerable citizens. Finally, rather than having Night Court start at 4:30 p.m., it should start at 6 p.m. This slight time shift to a later hour would allow workers the opportunity to work a full day, make arrangements for their children, travel to the courthouse, and still arrive on time. This would also allow courtroom personnel the opportunity to take an early dinner break before Night Court begins.
Access to attorneys is a great obstacle to litigants. In my 25 years as a litigator I have had uncountable experiences with pro se, or unrepresented, litigants. What I have learned is that pro se litigants want to be heard. They want to know that their concerns are being considered and taken seriously. Generally, in my interactions with a pro se litigant, I must use my interpersonal skills while listening to their perspective. Pro se litigants are held to the same standards as attorneys. So while a judge may be able to explain courtroom procedures to a pro se litigant, the judge cannot advocate for the same litigant. This likely puts the pro se litigant at a disadvantage. If attorneys were somehow more available then litigants would not feel as if they had to proceed unrepresented.
Having served as a judge for 6 years in DuPage County, I believe that a judge's ultimate responsibility is to listen to the litigants with fairness and impartiality and to follow the law. I have found that treating litigants, jurors, witnesses and courtroom personnel with respect, patience and an open-mind are essential to ensuring that everyone understands the process and expectations of the court. I also firmly believe that politics do not belong in a judge's decision-making regardless of whether judges have to participate in a partisan election. A judge is the most important person you, a family member or a friend will often meet during one of the most difficult experiences in life. I strive to adjudicate with compassion and understanding every time I take the bench in my courtroom.
For several years, the Illinois judiciary has implemented policies to address equal access to justice in the courts because it is essential to the strength and integrity of the judiciary. I have witnessed how these policies have improved and opened barriers to justice, especially for our most vulnerable citizens. For example, language access services in the courthouse have improved for bilingual litigants and witnesses. For self-represented litigants, there are resources in the courthouse and legal forms online which use plain language to assist citizens with all types of litigation such as orders of protection, divorce, eviction proceedings, and fee waivers. I have often directed litigants to advocates who can assist with some of these forms. Additionally, court personnel including clerks, deputies, and administrative assistants receive training on how to help these litigants with court rules. However, when it comes to access to justice, there is always room for improvement for vulnerable citizens. Communication as well as sharing resources with them is key.
I believe that two obstacles to justice are the physical and mental barriers which often prevent citizens from accessing the courts. In my opinion, physical barriers include a person's socio-economic status which inhibits transportation to court, an inability to hire counsel, seek resources, and follow-through with court orders. Even though many resources exist to help poor and vulnerable citizens, they often do not learn about these resources. I often see this problem and it is compounded for those who take off work and then fear losing their job. In addition to the physical barriers, I believe that mental barriers exist which cause obstacles to justice. As the Presiding Judge of Specialty Courts, I understand that mental illness is a prevalent health issue causes people to fear the courts in addition to being unable to understand what is expected. We need to break through some of these barriers and guide litigants toward available resources and help for their illness.