The Illinois Constitution of 1970 (Article 4) provides for a unified, three tiered judiciary consisting of Circuit Courts, Appellate Courts, and a Supreme Court. The highest court in the State is the Illinois Supreme Court. The Illinois Appellate Court is the second tier of the judiciary. The Appellate Court is divided into five Judicial Districts. The Seventeenth Judicial Circuit and five other circuits comprise the Second Judicial District of the Appellate Court. Currently, one circuit judge from Winnebago County, the Honorable Kathryn E. Zenoff, serves on the Illinois Appellate Court, Second District by assignment.
The first tier of the judiciary is the Circuit Court, which is the trial court level. The State of Illinois is divided into twenty-three Judicial Circuits, including our Seventeenth Judicial Circuit which is comprised of both Winnebago County and Boone County.
In the Circuit Court there are two types of Judges: Circuit Judges and Associate Judges. The Seventeenth Judicial Circuit has eleven Circuit Judges and fifteen Associate Judges. Circuit Judges are elected by popular vote for an initial six-year term. Thereafter, every six-years Circuit Judges must run for retention. The Circuit Judges elect a Chief Judge to provide administrative guidance to the entire circuit. The Circuit Judges also appoint and vote to retain Associate Judges based on four year terms. Associate Judges may hear all types of cases, except felony matters which require prior authorization from the Illinois Supreme Court.