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Civil Court Overview

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Daley Center civil juries in a nutshell

By Joseph D. Panarese
A judge since 2006, Joseph D. Panarese hears both criminal and civil jury trials throughout the 1st Municipal District. He began his legal career at Panarese & Panarese, then spent 10 years as a Cook County prosecutor before returning to the law firm in 2000.

Here’s a quick summary of how the Cook County circuit clerk’s office operates.

In order to begin a lawsuit, you must first file the case correctly. This means using the correct forms for each document, paying the corresponding filing fee and doing all of the above in a timely manner. For the 1st Municipal District, all of this may be done in Rooms 601 and 602 of the Daley Center.

The plaintiff must begin by filing a proper complaint with a summons form (the official notice that you are suing someone and that they must come to court) in the circuit clerk’s office in Rooms 601 and 602.

The clerk will provide the plaintiff a return date (the deadline date that the defendant has to file an appearance) and a case number. The plaintiff will be required to pay the respective filing fee or fees. Filing fees vary depending on how much money you are asking for in your lawsuit. Once the defendant is successfully served, you will be notified of the first court date.

The defendant must respond to the lawsuit by filing an appearance, jury demand and an answer before the return date. The failure to file these documents within the statutorily required time period may lead to a judgment being entered against the defendant.

This result should be avoided. This gives the defendant his day to respond and/or defend against the lawsuit in court. The defendant will also be required to pay the clerk for filing an appearance and requesting a jury trial at this time.

Serving the defendant with notice of the lawsuit

To begin the suit, the plaintiff is required to serve the defendant with a copy of the complaint. The Cook County sheriff must give or serve the defendant with a copy of the complaint, thus giving them notice of the lawsuit.

If the sheriff cannot serve the defendant (upon order of the court), service can be made by a private person over 18 years of age and not a party to the lawsuit or by an appointed special process server. The fee for service of process by the sheriff is $60 for each defendant.

Mandatory arbitration

Personal-injury cases, property damage and breach of contract cases, in which a timely jury demand has been filed, are all subject to mandatory arbitration. The judge sitting in Room 1501 will set discovery deadlines and deals with any pre-arbitration motions at this time.

The arbitration hearing date is scheduled, and the discovery deadline is set 30 days before the hearing date. The parties must provide by Supreme Court Rule 90(c), documents to the opposing party at least 30 days before the scheduled hearing date. Rule 90(c) documents are pieces of evidence that the party plans on using at trial and are presumed admissible at trial, showing the losses that were incurred.

Once the arbitration board (panel of three attorneys) makes a ruling, the parties may either accept the ruling or the adverse party may file a Supreme Court Rule 93 rejection.

Arbitration and Courtroom 1501

Courtroom 1501 acts as the courthouse’s nerve center. If a rejection of the arbitration is filed, the lawsuit is sent back to Courtroom 1501. The judge sitting in 1501 then assigns the lawsuit to a jury trial courtroom to begin the pretrial preparations.

Arbitration is a fantastic way to filter out cases that do not need to go to trial. This is because the parties will either agree with the arbitration board’s decision or they will use the award as means to achieve settlement.

Mandatory arbitration provides the court system with a great tool to limit its workload and provide an efficient system to encourage settlement by reducing court costs.

Motions and trial summary

The first step of the trial process is for any pretrial motions or motions in limine to be presented before the trial judge. The plaintiff or defendant can present various motions at this time by filing a notice of motion in Room 602 and pay any resulting fees.

The judge will rule on these motions in order to determine various things, including jury instructions and what evidence may or may not be used during the trial.

The trial judge, after hearing the pretrial motions, will then assign a trial date to the parties for their case. At trial, the court will allow the parties to question prospective jurors to determine what 12 citizens will hear the facts of the case.

The parties are entitled to five preemptory challenges of the jurors and an unlimited amount of challenges for cause. At trial, each party makes an opening statement, presents their case by calling and cross-examining various witnesses and experts, presenting evidence and giving their closing arguments.

The trial judge will then read the jury instructions to the jury. Each juror must follow these instructions during their deliberations. They are provided a written copy of the instructions to take with them into the jury room.

The jurors must decide the case by a unanimous decision. The judge will read the jury’s decision and enter the judgment.



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