As new Kane County Chief Judge Susan Clancy Boles begins her two-year term this month, she leaves her felony courtroom to begin a role as leader of the county’s third branch of government – the judiciary.
In her role as the chief judge, she will see that the judiciary is run in compliance with Supreme Court rules and that the courthouses are safe for the employees and the public – particularly the civil court on Third Street in Geneva.
“Safety, not only for the public, but for employees who work over there,” Boles said. “That is something I will focus on, as well.”
Also as chief judge, Boles will speak to the Kane County Board about the judiciary’s issues, as well. Boles said she will be overseeing the fruition of programs and initiatives begun under previous chief judges, such as the new court case management system, which was begun under former Chief Judge Keith Brown.
“A lot of duties of the chief judge are the same from one judge to another,” said Boles, 50. “There are certain roles that don’t change by statute. Court services never changes by statute. And there are budgetary constraints.”
Brown still is involved in the court case management system because he is chairman of the Kane County Commission for Technology and Strategic Planning Commission to implement it.
“It is not completed yet,” Boles said. “We are in the conversion process, and everyone is diligently working toward it.”
A new pre-trial pilot program that will start Jan. 11 is one Boles said she and previous Chief Judge Judith Brawka have worked on together during the transition of leadership.
The program relies on risk analysis to reduce recidivism, so those being held in jail, pending a trial or court date, are really the individuals at the highest risk of not showing up in court or are a danger to others, she said.
Court services hired additional employees to go into the jails to conduct a risk analysis for those appearing on bond call, Boles said. They will conduct follow-up interviews to provide information to the judge at bond court to assist in making a determination about the defendant, Boles said.
The judge at bond call is the first judge an arrested person normally sees after arrest, Boles said, so having this information helps that judge “make a complete and knowledgeable determination regarding bond for an individual.”
“We are working together diligently to get all the ducks in a row on that, Judge Brawka and I are,” Boles said.
Another duty of the chief judge is assigning judges to courtrooms. Boles said judges typically are reassigned after 2 1/2 to three years.
“Some courtrooms really benefit from consistent assignments, three- to five-year assignments,” Boles said. “It helps to have judges rotate – not only for the judge but for litigants – to have fresh eyes on it. That way, the judiciary are able to sit in any courtroom and be effective in any courtroom.”
Boles said new judge assignments will begin Jan. 11.
Other courtrooms, such as drug court or treatment alternative court, do better with consistency, so those judges are assigned for at least two years, Boles said.
“I do recognize a need for mental health treatment,” Boles said. “Before I was in delinquency (court), I was in abuse and neglect (court), and I saw how mental (illness) and substance abuse. ... I saw how it can blow up a family.”
Each division of the courts – such as felony or civil – has a presiding judge who serves as a conduit to the chief judge and helps run things within their particular divisions, she said.
Brown, who retired as a judge last year, said serving as chief judge from 2008 to 2012 “was the highlight of my judicial career.”
“It gave me an opportunity to provide leadership and direction to the entire court system,” Brown said. “It also provided me an opportunity to have contact with the overall community in order to create a dialogue in order to have judiciary serve its constituents.”
Brown praised Boles as the choice for the new chief judge.
“I’ve known Susan for a number of years,” he said. “I’ve watched her blossom, not only as a judge but as a leader in our legal community. I believe she is a fine selection and will service the public well. She is not only a nice person but a very smart, intelligent jurist.”
Boles was appointed as an associate judge in April 2007, and the next year, she was appointed as a circuit judge to fill out Judge R. Peter Grometer’s term after he retired. She ran for election in 2010 and was elected. She will be on the ballot for retention on the November 2016 ballot.
Although judges can be rotated in and out of various courtrooms, Boles was elected chief judge by other circuit court judges. She is the second female chief judge, following Brawka.
“It is an honor and one I was very humbled by and thrilled by at the same time,” Boles said. “I look forward to working collectively with the other branches of government and to be effective in my role.”
Although a chief judge traditionally does not have a court call, Boles said she might want to pick that up again during her term.
“Not in full, but in some capacity at some point,” Boles said. “I’ve had a lot of people tell me that is a crazy thought, that I will not have a lot of time in the day to do that and learn all aspects of this position.”
Boles acknowledged that being chief judge means she will “have a lot of things on my plate.”
“Really ... what is best for the public is what my job is,” she said. “That is who we serve – looking at our population and determining what is best and safe for the public.”