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Illinois Supreme Court Chief talks access to justice

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(Lathan Goumas - lgoumas@shawmedia.com )
Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas L. Kilbride speaks at an award luncheon Tuesday honoring pro bono work by lawyers presented by the McHenry County Bar Association and Prairie State Legal Services at Bull Valley Golf Club in Woodstock. Chief Justice Kilbride spoke about the importance of pro bono legal work.

WOODSTOCK – To Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride, justice for all means everyone – not just those who can afford it.

In fact, the indigent and the vulnerable are perhaps those who need the most help making sense of the legal system, Kilbride said when he addressed an audience Tuesday at the Bull Valley Golf Club

“The language of law is difficult … it’s hard to navigate the court system as a nonlawyer,” Kilbride said.

The chief justice addressed lawyers and judges at the McHenry County Bar Association and Prairie State Legal Services annual luncheon, which honored lawyers and law firms who represent indigent clients on a pro bono basis.

“Without them, people don’t have a voice in our court system,” said Vonda Vaughn, the local bar association president.

Kilbride’s keynote speech discussed the state’s 11-member Access to Justice Commission, of which McHenry County Chief Judge Michael Sullivan is a member. The project is designed to ease entry to the court system by those people who cannot afford an attorney and cannot qualify for legal aid.

“Our adversarial system works the best with competent lawyers on both sides,” Kilbride said. “That’s really true, and that comes home and is especially true with the number of people who are in need of lawyers.”

In Illinois, one in three people live at or below the federal poverty level, Kilbride said, leaving the market wide open to assist those in need.

“I know how hard the market is for lawyers these days, for solos and small law firms, and by no means are we trying to take business away from lawyers,” Kilbride said. “This is for the folks who don’t ... have enough money. Those are the folks we’re talking about.”

Four local attorneys were recognized for their pro bono work: Carl Gilmore, Jay Filler, Stephen Haugh and David Stone. McHenry County Judge Michael Caldwell also was honored.

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