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How Does the Illinois Appellate Court Work?

The Illinois Appellate Court is the state’s intermediate court that receives and hears appeals of cases initially heard by Circuit Courts. The Appellate Court also functions to reduce the number of cases that need to be heard by the Illinois Supreme Court. While the Illinois Appellate Court serves an intermediary function, the court’s decisions may be appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court. However, note that the Supreme Court is the apex court and its decisions may not be appealed. The Illinois judicial system also allows for some Circuit Court rulings to be directly channeled to the Supreme Court, summarily bypassing the Appellate Court.

The Illinois Appellate Court may hear an appeal from either party to a case. However, the right to an appeal is not always assumed. In most cases, an appeal may only be granted where there is a legal footing for the action.

Appealed cases heard by the Illinois Appellate Court do not involve retrials. Note that the Illinois Appellate Court does not hear from new witnesses, consider new evidence, or reconsider facts stated from the original trial. Typically, hearings at the Appellate Court are to determine the legality and correctness of the trial process or confirm that the proper application of the law was used to reach a verdict.

Any party to a case handled by an Illinois Circuit Court has a right to appeal the decision to the Appellate Court. The Appellate Court’s jurisdiction to hear an appeal case is directly determined by the Judicial District where the court is located. An Appellate Court may hear an appeal from a Circuit Court in the same Judicial District as a matter of right.

An Illinois Appellate Court may hear an appeal for any case, including civil, criminal, limited administrative agency, and writ. Also, the court may hear interlocutory appeals by permission, for the same types of cases. However, the Appellate Court may not exercise any jurisdiction over a case such as death sentence pronouncement, which may be directly appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court.

The Appellate Court reviews all transcripts and briefs from petitioners, and also considers oral arguments from attorneys representing both parties. The court may then make one of the following decisions:

  • Uphold the initial judgment
  • Reverse the initial judgment
  • Order the Circuit Court to take further action, such as a new trial
  • Order the Circuit Court to alter or correct the initial judgment

The Illinois Appellate Court currently comprises 54 judges, representing the five Judicial Districts in the state. The districts are based in Chicago, Elgin, Ottawa, Springfield, and Mount Vernon. The First District, covering Cook County, is further divided into six divisions, with at least 18 appellate judges. The remaining four districts have at least one division each, with at least six judges elected in each one. Note that districts may have more than one division, and each division should have at least three judges. Also, the Illinois Supreme court may temporarily assign additional appellate judges to any of the districts.

Each case to be heard by an Illinois appellate court is assigned to a panel of three judges. Cases may only be concluded after the concurrence of two judges.

An appellate judge serves a term of ten years after winning a partisan election. All judges that were not elected in a partisan election are direct appointees of the Illinois Supreme Court. In the event of a vacancy, qualified judicial candidates are required to run in a primary election to secure a nomination. After securing a nomination, the candidates then run for a seat in a general election. Appellate judges are allowed to participate in retention elections to remain on the seat for an additional term of 10 years. Note that unlike general elections, retention elections are nonpartisan.

The following are compulsory requirements that a prospective appellate judge must meet to partake in a general election:

  • Must hold a current license to practice law in Illinois
  • Must be a resident of the district of election
  • Must be a U.S. citizen

An Illinois appellate judge may remain on the seat until the end of tenure, or a failure to win a retention election. However, a judge may be removed by any of the following ways:

  • The Illinois Courts Commission: This is a judicial disciplinary agency tasked with hearing and making decisions on erring judges. The Commission hears cases of misconduct filed against judges by the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board and may remove a sitting judge after a hearing.
  • The Illinois State Senate: The State Senate may remove a sitting judge if two-thirds of the house vote in favor of the removal. However, this should be preceded by a majority vote for impeachment by the Illinois House of Representatives.

The following are contact information for Illinois Appellate Courts in the five Judicial Districts:

First District Appellate Court

160 North LaSalle Street

Chicago, IL 6061

Phone: (312) 793–5484

Second District Appellate Court

Appellate Court Building

55 Symphony Way

Elgin, IL 60120

Phone: (847) 695–3750

Third District Appellate Court

1004 Columbus Street

Ottawa, IL 61350

Phone: (815) 434–5050

Fourth District Appellate Court

201 West Monroe Street

Springfield, IL 62704

Phone: (217) 782–2586

Fifth District Appellate Court

14th & Main Street

Mount Vernon, IL 62864

Phone: (618) 242–3120

The Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts (AOC) provides public access to Appellate Court opinions. The AOC website maintains a recent list of Appellate Court opinions sorted by posting date, filing date, docket number, public domain citation number, and a case name. The case name for each opinion links to specific details on the case. These details include the appellant and defendant’s names, the presiding judge, the specific Appellate Court, and exhaustive details on the court’s opinion.

The recent list is maintained for 90 days, after which the oldest case is moved to an archive table. Interested persons may search the archived table by year and by the specific District Appellate Court. Persons may also fill in case details in the search box provided on the page.

The Illinois Appellate Court Act does not prescribe a deadline for the timeline of a case heard by the Appellate Court. As such, appeal cases take more than 200 days or over 300 days in many instances. However, Supreme Court Rule 311(a)(5) states a maximum of 150 days for the following Appellate Court cases:

  • Disposition of child custody
  • Allocation of parental responsibilities
  • Relocation of unemancipated minors.
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