People in Illinois' court system, not just judges, are in for some new learning in the New Year.

The Illinois Judicial College is launching. The college's chairman, Cook County Judge Tom Donnelly, says the idea is to provide continuing education to not just judges, but to all court staff, particularly those who have more contact with defendants and litigants than judges do.

Getting everyone involved in the sentencing process onto the same page – providing consistency – is one of the goal.

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“What are the best courses of probation to recommend?” Donnelly asks, citing an example. “There's a vast amount now of scientific information about what certain defendants are helped by, and getting use of these assessment tools will be very helpful to probation officers. We've trained Illinois judges on the benefits of these assessment tools, but we haven't really provided training to probation officers.”

Another problem the college can solve, Donnelly says, is the reluctance of a court clerk to help people out of fear he or she would be providing “legal advice.” That's against the law. Providing “legal information,” though, is not, and Donnelly says it's important for staff to be able to tell the difference.


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