By MARY SCHENK
URBANA — Champaign County’s seat is blessed with two courthouses — a federal courthouse at 201 S. Vine St. and a county courthouse just north of that at 101 E. Main St., in downtown Urbana.
The three-story federal courthouse opened in August 1994. It is the home of three federal judges: a full-time judge, a semiretired judge and a full-time magistrate court judge. Also there are offices for the U.S. district clerk, the U.S. attorney and the U.S. probation office. The federal public defender has an officer further to the west downtown at 300 W. Main St., U.
White collar crimes, tax fraud, drug cases involving large amounts of illegal substances, and civil rights violations are the kinds of cases you would typically see in federal court.
Across the street to the north is the “new” Champaign County Courthouse, which opened in May 2002. Refurbished in sections — the new clock tower dedicated in August 2009 was the jewel in the crown — the building replaced the old courthouse that had served citizens since August 1901.
The newer section of the courthouse features 11 courtrooms and the circuit clerk´s office. The existing courthouse was remodeled and now houses a museum, the jury assembly room, and public defender´s office on the first floor, the state´s attorney´s office on the second and probation on the third. Juries serve about 34 weeks out of the year.
Courthouse visitors come and go through a single controlled entrance and pass through an electric eye. An X-ray machine scans bags and coats. A bomb-sniffing dog patrols the premises daily.
The security was in place at the federal courthouse the day it opened, but it took a fire bomb to convince county officials of the need for security at the county courthouse.
On April 8, 1997, a mentally ill man entered the previously unsecured historic building, walked to the third floor and threw a lit Molotov cocktail at a judge during a jury trial. The judge was only slightly injured, but the courtroom was heavily damaged by fire and court security took on new importance in Champaign County.
The man who threw the firebomb, John Ewing, had a beef with now-retired Judge George Miller over a ruling in an unrelated case. He remains in a federal mental health institution in Springfield, Mo.
What follows is a breakdown of the cases filed in Champaign County Circuit Court for the past three years, local judges and a simple explanation of commonly used court lingo:
2009 case breakdown
Traffic (includes DUIs filed as traffic offenses): 29,637
Small claims: 2,412
Civil (includes divorces, orders of protection, chancery, law, eminent domain, tax, family): 4,348
2008 case breakdown
Small claims: 2,364
2007 case breakdown
Small claims: 3,428
Source: Champaign County circuit clerk´s office
The circuit court
Judges are elected and run for retention every six years.
Thomas Difanis (R)
Arnold Blockman (D)
Harry Clem (R)
Michael Jones (R)
Heidi Ladd (R)
Jerry Ford (R)
Associate judges are appointed by the elected circuit judges and are reviewed every four years.
U.S. District Court Judge Michael P. McCuskey; judge since 1998
U.S. Magistrate Judge David Bernthal; magistrate since 1995
Senior U.S. District Court Judge Harold Baker; judge since 1978
Glossary of court terms
Adjudication: The outcome of a juvenile court proceeding.
Arraignment: Person´s first appearance in court to be apprised of the charges and the possible penalties.
Arrest: Taking a person believed to have committed a crime into police custody.
Bond: Certificate or evidence of debt; most commonly used to describe the amount of money posted to obtain a person´s release from jail.
Delinquency petition: Charges filed in juvenile court alleging crimes believed to have been committed by persons under the age of 18.
Drug court: Form of probation in which people whose crimes are linked to drug or alcohol abuse are closely monitored while undergoing treatment for the addiction that prompted them to commit their crime.
Felony: Serious crime with penalties that involve imprisonment.
Impact Incarceration Program: Program of the Illinois Department of Corrections that enables convicted felons under the age of 35 to go through a boot-camp setting of 120 days in lieu of longer prison sentences; among qualifications is that the prison sentence cannot exceed eight years; person must be recommended by a judge for participation.
Indictment: Formal method of charging a person; returned by a grand jury.
Information: Document that specifies the alleged crime.
Grand jury: Group of 16 people who hear testimony, most often from police officers, involving the facts of a crime; they determine if there is probable cause for a prosecution. The grand jury does not determine guilt or innocence. The jurors´ work negates the need for a preliminary hearing. Defense attorneys are not allowed before the grand jury, whose work is done in secret.
Jury trial: Presentation of evidence by prosecutors and defense attorneys; in a criminal case, the jury has to believe there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt to convict a person; in a civil case, the burden is usually a “preponderance” of the evidence, that is, something is more likely than not to have happened.
Misdemeanor: Crime of a less serious nature with less serious penalties.
Notice to appear: Ticket given to a person believed to have committed a crime, ordering the person to come to court on a later date.
Order of protection: Court-issued document protecting one party from another for a certain period of time; facts are presented to a judge who determines if such protection is warranted. Emergency orders last a short time; plenary orders usually last two years.
Parole: Period of supervised release after a convicted felon gets out of prison.
Petit jury: Group of 12 people selected to hear evidence at a jury trial in a civil or criminal action and determine guilt or innocence.
Preliminary hearing: In a criminal case, the presentation of evidence to a judge, who determines if there is enough evidence to proceed with prosecution. Defense attorneys are allowed to cross-examine witnesses.
Probation: Period of supervision in the community for a person convicted of a crime; usually has multiple conditions such as public service, counseling and restitution; the judge sets the length and the terms.
Summons: Written document directed to the sheriff or other officer requiring him to notify the person named that an action has been commenced and that he is required to appear in court on a certain day to answer.
Warrant: Writ from an authority, usually a judge, directing an officer to perform an act, such as arresting a person or conducting a search.
Additional source: Black’s Law Dictionary