Saturday, June 16, 2018

Justice P. Scott Neville, Jr. joins the Illinois Supreme Court

Justice Anne M. Burke administering the oath of office

Before a packed Thompson Center auditorium audience that included many of his colleagues from the Illinois Appellate Court, Justice P. Scott Neville, Jr. was sworn in yesterday afternoon as the 117th justice of the Illinois Supreme Court.

The only empty seats were in the middle of the room;
many stood in the side aisles to see the ceremony

Justice Neville's sister, Professor Florise Neville-Ewell of the Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, introduced Appellate Court Justice Shelvin Louise Marie Hall, who served as Mistress of Ceremonies.

A dozen speakers offered congratulations to and reminiscences about Justice Neville: State Sen. Kwame Raoul (13th); State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (25th); Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle; Justice Terrence Lavin, Vice Chair of the Executive Committee of the Illinois Appellate Court, First District; Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans of the Cook County Circuit Court; Judge Andrea Buford, Chairperson of the Illinois Judicial Council; Judge James E. Snyder, President of the Illinois Judges Association; Judge Ramon Ocasio, President of the Latino Judges Association; Allen Nettles, a law school classmate of Justice Neville at Washington University; Dr. Conrad Worrill, the retired Director of the Center for Inner City Studies at Northeastern Illinois University and a Neville family friend; Josephine Wade, the owner of Captain's Hard Times Restaurant on E. 79th Street; and Dartesia A. Pitts, the President of the Cook County Bar Association.

Some of the speakers at yesterday's ceremony.  Front row, from left to right, Justice Shelvin Louise Marie Hall, Dartesia Pitts, Judge Buford, Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans, Judge Ramon Ocasio, and Justice Terrence Lavin.  Back row, left to right: Dr. Conrad Worrill (obscured), Allen Nettles, Judge James E.Snyder (obscured), and Pastor David B. Thornton

Pastor David B. Thornton, of the Sixth Grace Presbyterian Church, offered the invocation and benediction and Felicia Coleman-Evans, accompanied by Elsa Harris, provided music.

Outgoing Justice Charles E. Freeman was lauded by virtually every speaker, as were the late Appellate Court Justices Glenn T. Johnson and R. Eugene Pincham.

In his remarks, Justice Neville praised Justices Johnson (for whom he clerked) and Pincham as the mentors of his legal career and Justice Freeman as the mentor of his judicial career.

In his service on the Supreme Court, Justice Neville said repeatedly, no one will be unseen, no one will be unheard ("whether pro se or no say," he added at one point, to applause).

Neville did not announce that he will appoint a committee to screen judicial candidates, but he pledged to work with the Alliance of Bar Associations for Judicial Screening (the United Nations of bar associations, he said) to vet his appointments. I have "complete confidence" in the Alliance, Neville said, because I co-founded that group.

Justice Neville proposed that every court should be a "court of record" -- that court reporters, or at least tape recorders, be present in every courtroom so that there is a record in every case and no case is ever "bounced" in a court of review for lack of a record. Justice Neville suggested that this could be financed by law firm donations, though he did not specify how this might be done.

Personal opinion, clearly labeled as such: This is a great proposal. Personally, I'd prefer live court reporters in every courtroom for every hearing and trial. While I've been impressed with the quality of transcripts I've seen transcribed from tapes in DuPage County, I think a live court reporter in the room would provide the best, and most accurate, record. But the cost would presumably be substantial -- and the funding of such a laudable venture would be problematic.

Justice Neville also proposed that the State should organize a trial bar, like that utilized by the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

Fully half the litigants in Cook County, Neville said, are unrepresented. They may be effectively denied access to justice on account of their inability to navigate the tricky shoals of the justice system. Lawyers from the proposed 'trial bar' could be appointed to assist these litigants, Neville suggested.

Personal opinion clearly labeled as such: This is a terrible idea. While the pro se problem is real and a true access to justice issue, the solution is not to impose yet another unfunded mandate on the bar.

The problem is an economic one: Litigation costs too much.

Note that I did not say lawyers cost too much. There are a privileged few -- a very few -- who command $1,000 or more per hour for their services. But there are a great many lawyers struggling to pay the rent, who charge far, far less -- and who can't collect the fees they do charge.

The truth is that, for too many litigants, the cost of obtaining, and paying for, a lawyer is the only litigation cost that can be "controlled." Even though judges recognize the folly of this -- like cutting off one's nose to spite one's face -- litigants too often forego the services of a lawyer (or, as litigation costs mount, stop paying their lawyer).

By reducing the cost of litigation, we will reduce the numbers of pro se litigants -- and increase employment opportunities for lawyers. (See my 2017 article, Solving the Pro Se Revolution, and putting lawyers back to work, too.) And how do we reduce litigation costs? We move from "routine" (and prohibitively expensive) discovery to a system of zero-based discovery.

Of course, serving as a fair but skeptical gatekeeper in discovery matters will take effort on the part of the judiciary, but the courts have always had the power to control discovery. And better this than to respond to one economic injustice by imposing another.

I suppose it is unwise for a mere solo practitioner to stake out a policy disagreement with a newly-installed Supreme Court justice on Day One of his tenure. But, then, I never was much of a politician.

And this is too important.

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