The Circuit Courts' Jurisdiction, Titles, and Terms

The circuit courts have general jurisdiction over all civil and criminal matters, except those limited and specific areas in which the Supreme Court has sole and original jurisdiction.

The circuit court has 23 numbered judicial circuits. [See Map of judicial circuits and appellate court districts and circuits, superimposed upon the map of counties.] The Illinois First Judicial Circuit is Cook County, and that circuit includes no other counties.

Circuit courts contain circuit and associate judges. Circuit court judges are elected by the voters in their circuit for a six-year term. At the expiration of that term, the circuit court judge must stand in a retention election before the electorate of that circuit in order to serve for another six-year term. In each circuit the circuit judges elect a chief judge to administer judicial matters in that circuit.

Associate judges are appointed by the judges of the circuit based on merit to serve for a four-year term. Associate judges may also be appointed by the Supreme Court. Associate judges hear all cases except felony matters, unless so authorized by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court may assign judges in any circuit.

For the year 2015 there were 1001 circuit court judges, and 54 appellate court judges. A circuit court judge may carry the title At Large, Resident, or Associate. At Large judges are elected from the entire circuit, including from all of Cook County. Resident judges are chosen by the electorate of the county or circuit in which they reside, or from Chicago in Cook County. The other judges in their circuit appoint associate judges, who are then appointed by the Supreme Court.

Judicial assignments may include traffic, domestic violence, misdemeanor or felony. The assignment for judges in 2015 represents the assignment listed for that judge by the Supreme Court or Sullivan's Judicial Profiles. Not all judges have a specific court assignment, and assignments may change during the year.

The number of judges in a circuit is based upon population, and vacancies are filled by appointment of a judge meeting the residential and other qualifications. The chief judge of the circuit assigns where judges sit.

Relevant Law

Judicial Vacancies Act, 705 ILL. COMP. STAT. 40.
Associate Judges Act, 705 ILL. COMP. STAT. 45.
Cook County Circuit Apportionment Act of 1991, 705 ILL. COMP. STAT. 50.