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Illinois Supreme Court Launches Pro Bono Pilot to Address Criminal Appeals Backlog

criminal appealsThe Illinois Supreme Court has launched a pro bono pilot program to reduce the backlog of criminal appeals in the state. During the six-month pilot, which was announced on Feb. 11, volunteer pro bono attorneys will substitute as counsel for lawyers in the Office of the State Appellate Defender (OSAD) in certain criminal appeals.

The pilot will include direct appeals in jury and non-jury cases with records of 1,300 pages or less. Oral arguments will be encouraged so pro bono attorneys can gain experience arguing before the appellate court. The pilot will launch in the First and Second Districts of the Appellate Court. If the pilot yields positive results, it will be expanded to the Third, Fourth, and Fifth District Appellate Courts.

“The backlog of criminal appeals cases presents a serious access to justice problem that is of great concern to the Supreme Court,” said Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Anne M. Burke in a press release. “Similar programs have been used in other states to help reduce backlogs. We look forward to the program’s successful implementation in the initial test phase and to its eventual implementation throughout the state.”

Second District Appellate Court Justice Donald C. Hudson, chair of the Appellate Court Administrative Committee, and First District Appellate Court Justice Bertina E. Lampkin, member of the Appellate Court Administrative Committee, spearheaded the organization of the criminal appeals pilot. The Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts is providing managerial assistance.

Attorneys can apply by completing the Volunteer Attorney Application on the Court’s website. Applicants must have prior experience as appellate counsel or as a supreme court or appellate court clerk. Additional criteria for participation includes a valid license to practice law in Illinois for a minimum of five years (or admission in Illinois under Supreme Court Rule 707), up-to-date malpractice insurance, and no ARDC disciplines.

Applicants who don’t meet the criteria may still be accepted if they agree to work under the supervision of an attorney who has the requisite experience and is approved for the program.

The OSAD offers online video training on appellate advocacy for volunteer attorneys and provides resources on its website to aid in the preparation of a brief.

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