News Releases

Chief Judge Eugene G. Doherty announces that the 17th Judicial Circuit Court has launched an eviction mediation program in Winnebago County. The program is free and available to housing providers and tenants with pending residential eviction court cases. In addition to providing mediation, the program will refer parties to appropriate services, including rental assistance programs. Mediation sessions will occur virtually through the assistance of technology.

Chief Judge Doherty stated, “The Illinois Supreme Court has encouraged each judicial circuit to establish early resolution programs to allow for alternative dispute resolution of eviction cases. The court is pleased to be in a position to offer a platform that allows Winnebago County residents involved in eviction court an opportunity to reach an agreement that meets their respective needs.”

The Circuit partnered with the nonprofit organization Resolution Systems Institute (RSI), who will coordinate the program and deliver virtual mediation programming. RSI’s mission is to strengthen access to justice by enhancing court alternative dispute resolution systems. RSI was awarded a grant to support this program offering from the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation, with funding provided by the Illinois Department of Human Services.

For more information regarding participation in the eviction program, you may contact Program Coordinator Olga Ivari at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or at (312) 772-4493.

If you are a skilled mediator and wish to learn about serving the program, please contact RSI’s Eric Slepak at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

PDF of Press Release

Chief Judge Eugene G. Doherty announces that the 17th Judicial Circuit Court has released a podcast entitled "Learning with Laura Youngblut: Domestic Violence in Winnebago County." The nine-part series examines responses to domestic violence in Winnebago County, Illinois through the eyes of the host, Laura Youngblut. Episode guests include:

• Associate Judge Jennifer J. Clifford, 17th Judicial Circuit Court

 • Deputy Chief Kurt Whisenand, City of Rockford Police Department

• Manager of the Mayor’s Office of Domestic and Community Violence Prevention Jennifer Cacciapaglia, City of Rockford

• Clinical Professor Wendy Hinton Vaughn, NIU College of Law

This podcast was created with funds from the Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women and is a project under the Winnebago County Domestic Violence Coordinated Court’s role as a national Domestic Violence Mentor Court.

Host Laura Youngblut stated, "I am humbled to be part of this project which provides information about domestic violence and the criminal justice system from the perspective of a person with no previous knowledge about these topics. This resource brings awareness to an important community issue and can provide the listener with information on how to best support those who work in or are going through this process."

Nicole Ticknor, Deputy Court Administrator of the Domestic Violence Coordinated Court commented, "We hope this project provides community members and other professionals with a behind-the-scenes look at our community’s collaborative response to domestic violence. Even those with some familiarity of the legal system will benefit from hearing the individual perspectives of the response to domestic violence in each episode." 

The podcast can be accessed at or at the 17th Judicial Circuit’s website. The podcast is also available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

PDF of Press Release

Chief Judge Eugene G. Doherty is pleased to announce that the Winnebago County Circuit Court has been selected as a recipient of a Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women Justice for Families Program grant award. The $550,000 award will provide continued support for the Winnebago County Domestic Violence Coordinated Court, including funding for survivor advocacy within the court system. To date, 1.4 million dollars in Justice for Families Program funding has been awarded to support and enhance the Winnebago County Domestic Violence Coordinated Court.

Nicole Ticknor, Deputy Court Administrator of the Domestic Violence Coordinated Court commented, “We are thrilled to be selected for continued funding from the Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women. This continued federal support for the work of our Domestic Violence Coordinated Courts demonstrates Winnebago County’s ongoing national leadership and innovation in the criminal justice system’s response to domestic violence.” 

Honorable Randy Wilt, Presiding Judge of the Domestic Violence Coordinated Court stated, “The funding provided by the Office on Violence Against Women is integral to the functions of our Domestic Violence Coordinated Court. With this funding, we can continue to expand upon the foundation established by this court which dates back to 2012.”

PDF of Press Release

Chief Judge Eugene Doherty announced today that, effective Monday, August 30, the Circuit Court will return to the requirement that all persons in the courthouse, regardless of vaccination status, must be masked.

“It’s disappointing to have to take step backwards,” said Chief Judge Doherty, referring to the fact that masks had previously not been required for fully vaccinated persons.  “Still, the court has met its responsibilities during the pandemic and will continue to do so.  I know that litigants, lawyers, and jurors have been extremely cooperative with our measures relating to public health, and I have every expectation that they will continue to be.”

PDF of Press Release

As a result of authority granted by the Illinois Supreme Court, the 17th Judicial Circuit will take a different approach to social distancing in Boone and Winnebago Counties starting August 2, 2021.

“We are very much aware of the threat posed by the Delta variant to unvaccinated persons, but CDC guidelines do not require social distancing for those who are vaccinated,” said Eugene Doherty, Chief Judge of the 17th Circuit.  “We also know that, with widespread availability of the vaccine, people have had the opportunity to take the most important step toward self-protection -- vaccination.”  Consequently, Chief Judge Doherty said, the Circuit will no longer lay out its jury trial courtrooms on the assumption that all jurors must maintain six feet of separation during trials.  “Jurors who have, for their own reasons, made the decision not to be vaccinated and who wish to be socially distant from other jurors will be encouraged to let the court know of that request,” Doherty said.

Adhering to presumed six-foot distancing for all jurors has required the 17th Circuit to operate at reduced jury trial capacity.  In Winnebago County, for example, only two criminal courtrooms are capable of permitting such distancing for all jurors, instead of the usual eight courtrooms that might hear criminal jury trials.   “Throughout the State, we have returned to 100% capacity for a variety of different public activities and buildings,” Doherty said.  “We would like to think that affording accused defendants their constitutional right to a jury trial is at least as important as many of the entertainment venues which have now returned to full capacity.”

Current CDC data shows that approximately two-thirds of adults in the 17th Circuit are partially vaccinated, and more than half are fully vaccinated. Doherty encourages all unvaccinated 17th Circuit residents to assess whether now is the time for them to consider getting the vaccine.

PDF of Press Release

Chief Judge Eugene G. Doherty is pleased to announce that on June 23rd Associate Judge Donna R. Honzel was honored with the Winnebago County Bar Association Seely Forbes Award. Each year, the Winnebago County Bar Association presents its Seely Forbes Award to a member of the association who best exemplifies Judge Forbes’ characteristics of kindness, courtesy, thoughtfulness, consideration, and moral courage.

Outgoing Winnebago County Bar Association President Douglas Henry commented, “Judge Honzel is a most worthy recipient of the Seely Forbes Award. Throughout her career as a lawyer and judge she has always displayed kindness to her colleagues and the public.  She exemplifies the highest ideals of our profession to which we all aspire and serves as a role model of good citizenship to us all.”

“I was completely taken by surprise,” said Judge Honzel. “So many prior recipients have been people I admired and respected and to be included in that group is an incredible honor.”

Judge Honzel received her undergraduate degree in Criminal Justice Administration from Central Missouri State University in 1988, and a Juris Doctor from the University of Illinois in 1991. She was appointed as an associate judge in December 2015. Judge Honzel is currently assigned to the Civil Division and presides over assigned cases in Winnebago County. She is an active member of the Illinois Judges Association, Illinois State Bar Association, and she is a member and past president of the Winnebago County Bar Association.

PDF of Press Release

Chief Judge Eugene Doherty announced that the Winnebago and Boone County courthouses and court offices will be open today, June 18.

"We welcome the important commemoration marked by the new Juneteenth holiday," Doherty said, "but in accordance with the guidance of the Illinois Supreme Court, our buildings will remain open today."

PDF of Press Release

Judge Joseph G. McGraw and Judge Maureen Schuette have been named as the new Co-Chairs of the Illinois Family Violence Coordinating Council Steering Committee.

The Illinois Family Violence Coordinating Councils, at both the state and local/circuit levels, provide a forum to improve the institutional, professional and community response to family violence including intimate partner abuse, child abuse, teen dating violence, and abuse against older adults and people with disabilities. Councils provide professional education and prevention; coordinate interventions and services for victims and perpetrators; and contribute to both the improvement of the legal system and the administration of justice.

“Judge McGraw is an excellent choice for this position,” said Chief Judge Eugene Doherty.  “He brings experience in both the courtroom and court administration.”

Regarding his selection, Judge McGraw commented, “Now, more than ever, the courts play an integral role in coordinating a community response to family violence, intimate partner abuse, child abuse, abuse of the elderly and those with disabilities. I look forward to building on the foundation that has been established and to vigorously engage in the work yet to be done."

Joseph G. McGraw is a graduate of the University of Illinois and Northern Illinois University - College of Law.  He was appointed as a circuit judge by the Illinois Supreme Court in January 2002, and was elected to his position in November 2002. He has served as the presiding judge of the Criminal Division from 2004 to present.  Judge McGraw served as the chief judge of the 17th Judicial Circuit Court from January 2012 to December 2017.

Judge Maureen Schuette is an associate judge in the 3rd Judicial Circuit in Madison County.   She is a graduate of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and the University of Puget Sound Law School in Tacoma, Washington. She was appointed to the bench in 2015. Judge Schuette served as the presiding and supervising judge of the Family Division from October 2017 to May 2021.

PDF of Press Release

Exercising additional authority granted by the Illinois Supreme Court, 17th Circuit Chief Judge Eugene Doherty today announced that the Court’s masking policy has been changed to exclude persons who are fully vaccinated.

“The change in the Supreme Court’s order tracks recent guidance from the CDC, and we are amending our masking policy accordingly,” said Doherty.  “Persons entering the courthouse must still be masked if they are not fully vaccinated; those who are fully vaccinated can choose not to wear a mask.”

Judge Doherty made clear that, while the Court retains the right to inquire about patron’s vaccination status, it is the Court’s hope to rely on the honesty of court patrons.  “We all know that there can be serious consequences from making a misrepresentation to the court,” said Doherty.  “We expect people to be honest to us and to themselves, and to continue to mask if they are not fully vaccinated.”

PDF of Press Release

Illinois Supreme Court Order M.R. 30370, Dated May 27, 2021

Eugene G. Doherty, Chief Judge of the 17th Judicial Circuit Court, is pleased to announce that the circuit judges of the 17th Circuit have selected Attorney Nick E. Zimmerman as Public Defender for Winnebago County, Illinois.

The vacancy in this office is as result of the planned retirement of current Winnebago County Public Defender David J. Doll. Mr. Zimmerman will assume his duties as the Winnebago County Public Defender on April 24, 2021.

Commenting on the selection, Chief Judge Doherty stated, “Nick Zimmerman is dedicated to the core mission of the Public Defender’s office and brings a record of constructive partnership in the criminal justice system. He is not only an excellent lawyer, but a reliable colleague with proven managerial experience.”

Mr. Zimmerman completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Wisconsin - Platteville and received his Juris Doctor from Northern Illinois University College of Law in 2000.   His legal career has been primarily dedicated to service with the Winnebago County Public Defender’s Office, where he has been employed since 2011 and served as First Deputy since 2017. He has also practiced in the private sector.   

PDF of Press Release

The Judges of the Seventeenth Circuit Court are “visiting” area classrooms. The Seventeenth Circuit’s Judicial Speakers Bureau has expanded its offerings this spring in response to the ongoing pandemic. The use of technology has permitted judges to speak to more students than ever before. Currently, judges have visited with 19 classes from 5 schools and visits are scheduled with an additional 28 classes.

Age-appropriate curricula, specific to the audience, introduce students to the judicial system and topics that encourage critical thinking. For grades K-5, each 30 minute program includes reading and discussion of a book from the Page it Forward series. A project of the Illinois Judges Association, the reading program is designed to encourage the appreciation, value and enjoyment of reading. Judges dressed in their black robes visit with the classroom and read the book and discuss its intersection with history and the law. A copy of the book is donated to the classroom.

For students in grades 6-12, the American Bar Association’s annual Law Day theme is our chosen visit curriculum. Law Day is held on May 1st every year to celebrate the role of law in our society and to cultivate a deeper understanding of the legal profession. This year’s theme, “Advancing the Rule of Law Now,” introduces students to the bedrock of American rights and liberties.

Chief Judge Eugene Doherty stated, “The judicial system is something that people may one day need to interact with. Perhaps for a marriage, an adoption, a traffic ticket, or jury duty. This is one opportunity to introduce our young people to the role of the courts in preserving the rule of law and protecting individual rights.”

Ms. Brenda Lisitza, an elementary educator at Maria Montessori School shared, “The students are still talking about how they saw inside a courtroom and talked to a ‘real’ Judge. This is a wonderful program you have provided for our students. Thank you for connecting with our students and making such a positive impact! My students were engaged during the entire program and listened attentively to everything the Judge talked about. I feel it is important that students feel adults in the community care about them as people as well as their learning - then they are more likely to feel connected.”

The Judicial Speakers Bureau, a program of the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit, was established to help the community gain an understanding and knowledge of what can be a very complex legal system and the various programs in which the court is involved. The Judicial Speakers Bureau is comprised of judges who preside in both Boone County and Winnebago County. 

The Seventeenth Circuit’s virtual classroom visits are available throughout the spring. Educators wishing to schedule a virtual visit with a judge should contact Kimberly Ackmann, Deputy Court Administrator at 815-319-4831 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Pictured: Hon. John T. Gibbons speaking with a group of students from his courtroom at the Winnebago County Courthouse.

The Illinois Judges Association is a membership organization of 1,250 active and retired judges whose purpose is to foster public confidence in the independence of the judiciary, provide services and education to its members, and information about court operations to the public. Funding for the books was made possible by a grant from the Illinois Judges Foundation.

PDF of Press Release

Eugene G. Doherty, Chief Judge of the 17th Judicial Circuit, has officially posted a notice of vacancy for the position of Winnebago County Public Defender.   This vacancy is based on the planned retirement of Public Defender David J. Doll on April 23, 2021.

Employment responsibilities, qualifications, and instructions on how to apply are provided in the attached Notice of Vacancy. The Notice of Vacancy and required application form are available from this linkApplications must be received by 5:00 pm on Wednesday, February 24, 2021. The vacancy will be filled by vote of the Circuit Judges in the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit.


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