Most people are surprised to learn that an “administrative court” system exists in Illinois that functions primarily independent of our traditional court system. These “administrative courts” are created by cities and villages. Fines can be up to $750.00 per offense, and a person can be jailed for up to 6 months if the municipal offense in a misdemeanor. Many of the traditional criminal cases such as theft, possession of a controlled substance, battery, assault, etc. are now being decided by appointed “hearing officers” under the label of “quasi-criminal criminal cases.” The “story” goes that these proceedings are civil, and thus, are not “real” criminal cases.
Although administrative rulings by appointed hearing officers/judges that deal with quasi-criminal cases can be appealed to Judicial Court, they rarely are because it is extremely difficult and expensive to have an administrative ruling overturned under current Illinois law.
The “hearing officers” who decide the municipal ordinance violation are appointed by the given municipality. The rules of evidence are so loose as to allow hearsay into evidence. For example, in a municipal violation alleging a crime, the hearing officer can consider the police reports as evidence even if the police officer is absent at trial. The accused does have the right to have an attorney, cross-examine witnesses, present witnesses and request the hearing officer to issue subpoenas to require the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents. The standard of proof is a preponderance of the evidence. That means that if the hearing officer finds that it was more likely than not (51%) that a violation has occurred, the accused be found liable. To note, the hearing officers are required to be lawyers and have gone through formal training.
The rise in administrative courts is recent. Over the last 20 years, Illinois law has evolved in a way that has removed ordinance enforcement from the judicial courts to local administrative hearings. Under 65 ILCS 5/1-2.1-1, local “home rule” municipalities are given the right to enforce their respective municipal ordinances. Under Article VII, Section 6 of the Illinois Constitution, a “home rule” municipality is one that has a minimum of 25,000 residents. The powers of “home rule” municipalities include, but are not limited to, the power to license, tax, incur debt and pass ordinances relating to the protection of the public health, safety, morals, and welfare. That means that local municipalities have almost unlimited ability to pass ordinances unless specifically limited by Illinois State law. The ordinances cover a wide area of the law, including but not limited to, building, vehicle seizures, and impounds, quasi-criminal cases, fire code violations, building code violations, parking tickets, public passenger violations, unlicensed businesses, health and safety violations, compliance tickets, red light and speed camera violations. One limitation that is imposed by 65 ILCS 5/1-2.1-1 is that local municipalities can not pass ordinances for violation of the Illinois Vehicle Code. In other words, DUI cases and other traffic tickets have to be adjudicated in Court and not at an administrative hearing.
This is new system has been so “successful” that the City of Chicago has established a large central hearing facility that rivals Illinois county courthouses in its size and case volume. Further, municipalities are finding out about the economic “bonanza” that has been created that virtually all home rule municipalities are now engaged in broad ordinance enforcement. On any given hearing date, a city or village can bring in thousands of dollars from Illinois residents who are accused of violating a given ordinance.
President Obama sponsored 65 ILCS 5/1-2.1-1 (Previous Pub. Act 90-516) that created this administrative court system when he was an Illinois State Senator. When discussing the legislation, the then Senator Obama stated that its purpose of the law was to “give these administrative adjudication processes some teeth and that litigating the cases through regular courts was “overburden[ing]” them.” 90th Ill. Gen. Assem., Senate Proceedings, Mar. 19, 1997, at 114 (statements of Senator Obama). Often, we talk about intended consequences. In this situation, the transfer of authority from judicial courts to administrative officers seems to produce less justice and more revenue for municipalities.
For more information, call John D. Ioakimidis at Legal Defenders, P.C., at 312-229-5500.