News Releases

The 17th Judicial Circuit Court is pleased to announce its Juvenile Redeploy program celebrated a graduation on May 7th, 2024 for one participant who successfully completed the requirements of the 12–18 month long program.    Over the past three years, the program has seen 27 participants successfully graduate.

Juvenile Redeploy Illinois is a grant-funded program through the Department of Human Services that has been offered to moderate to high-risk youth in Winnebago County since 2013. In collaboration with service providers, Youth Services Network (YSN), Equip for Equality (EFE), and Dr. Jason Soriano, each participant receives therapeutic wrap-around services in addition to a dedicated juvenile probation officer. YSN provides a case manager, parent-engagement specialist, and counselor who works closely with each participant and family. YSN creates an individualized case plan in collaboration with the youth.

“We are proud of the hard work this graduate has put towards completing the Redeploy program. It is not easy to accomplish in such a short period of time.   Over the past year, he developed relationships with the team and utilized the skills taught in class to help him make positive choices for his life,” said Taryn Marko, Deputy Director of Juvenile Probation.  “This young man has a bright future ahead.”

Each participant completes Moral Reconation Therapy or Life Skills Reimagined curriculums as a part of the program. EFE provides an attorney who reviews school records and develops an educational plan. This plan helps guide the Redeploy team on the best way to advocate for the participant.  EFE also provides legal advice, representation, and technical support to ensure each participant receives appropriate special education services. Dr. Jason Soriano provides psychological evaluations for youth identified by the Redeploy team. Each participant goes through a level system that builds opportunities to praise progress made toward their goals.

Please contact Jared Johannsen for more information regarding the Winnebago County Juvenile Redeploy Illinois program.

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Judge Janet R. Holmgren, Presiding Judge of the 17th Judicial Circuit Court Therapeutic Intervention Program (TIP) Court is pleased to announce the program celebrated its 34th graduation ceremony on Wednesday, May 1, 2024 at 1:30 p.m. in Courtroom 217 at the Winnebago County Courthouse. Three TIP Court participants have successfully completed all of the TIP Court Program requirements, bringing the total number of Graduates to 202 since TIP Court began in 2005.

TIP Court is a specialized problem-solving court program that provides wrap-around therapeutic services and intensive court supervision to persons in the criminal justice system who have a serious and persistent mental illness. The program is voluntary and the average length of participation is two and a half years. The goals and purpose of TIP Court is to provide participants with the treatment and case management services they require to help them achieve stability and maintain recovery and in turn, dramatically reduce the likelihood that they will commit new offenses. A multi-disciplinary team of clinical and justice professionals closely supervise each participant’s compliance with treatment and probation supervision requirements. Participants are held accountable for complying and completing their treatment plan requirements through intensive probation supervision and frequent court appearances before Judge Holmgren. 

Please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information about TIP Court and the 34th graduation ceremony.

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April is Child Abuse Prevention Awareness Month.  Judge Jennifer Clifford, Chairperson of the 17th Judicial Circuit Court Family Violence Coordinating Council (FVCC), announces the return of “Hands Around the Courthouse” on April 18, 2024 at 12:00pm at the front entrance of the Winnebago County Criminal Justice Center located at 650 W. State Street in Rockford.

The community is encouraged to join the FVCC and their community partners, including Winnebago County CASA, Brightpoint, Youth Services Network, The Carrie Lynn Children’s Center and MERIT at this annual event. This brief ceremony will bring the community together to remember survivors and celebrate the work that has been done to improve the response to victims of child abuse and neglect.  

This year’s event will honor the recipient of the inaugural Blue Bow Champion for Children Award, Mary Bawinkel. The Blue Bow Champion for Children Award is awarded to an individual, organization or group that has made outstanding contributions to child abuse awareness and prevention by going above and beyond to help kids grow up in safe environments. At the end of the event, participants will surround the courthouse with blue ribbon and plant a blue pinwheel garden to honor survivors of child abuse and neglect and increase awareness around prevention efforts. Remarks will be provided by Ericka Potter from Youth Services Network and Winnebago County Chairman, Joseph Chiarelli, will proclaim April as Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month. This event is open to the community.

According to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, close to 170,000 calls were made the Illinois Child Abuse Hotline in FY23. During the same time period, 217 children died by abuse and 178 children died by neglect in Illinois.

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Associate Circuit Judge R. Randy Wilt will retire from his position on April 15, 2024.   Judge Wilt was appointed as an associate circuit judge on February 28, 2011.

Judge Wilt is assigned to a felony criminal docket in Winnebago County.  In 2012, Judge Wilt was the first judge selected and assigned to a newly created Winnebago County Domestic Violence Coordinated Court (DVCC) criminal courtroom where he presided over both felony and misdemeanors matters between intimate partner.   He was assigned this specialized domestic violence courtroom from 2012 to 2018, and served as the Presiding Judge of the DVCC from December 2018 to January 2022. 

John S. Lowry, Chief Judge of the 17th Judicial Circuit, commented, “Judge Randy Wilt has served the court with impeccable integrity, extraordinary diligence and a keen understanding of criminal law and procedure.  We will always be grateful for his dedicated service to the 17th Judicial Circuit.”

“Being selected a judge in February of 2011 was a highlight of my legal career,” said Judge Wilt.  “I will be eternally grateful for the opportunity.  The job was not easy but I hope and truly believe that I helped others.”

Judge Wilt is a graduate of The Ohio State University (B.A. 1977) and the Loyola University Chicago School of Law (J.D. 1980).   Judge Wilt is actively involved in several court initiatives and committees, including the 17th Circuit Family Violence Coordinating Council, Domestic Violence Coordinated Courts Core Team, and service as a nationally recognized Domestic Violence Mentor Court.  In 2022, he was presented with the Legacy Award from the 17th Circuit Family Violence Coordinating Council for his longstanding commitments to justice, victim safety, and offender accountability.  

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Marcia M. Meis, Director of the Administrative Office of Illinois Courts, and John S. Lowry, Chief Judge of the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit Court, are pleased to announce that the 17th Circuit Judges have selected attorney Heidi E. Ruckman-Agustsson as an associate judge.  This vacancy is based on the upcoming retirement of Associate Judge Randy Wilt, effective April 15, 2024.  Ms. Ruckman-Agustsson will take her oath of office on Tuesday, April 16, 2024.

“Heidi Ruckman-Agustsson is a highly regarded attorney who is well suited for judicial office,” said Chief Judge John S. Lowry.  “Her character, professionalism and legal ability will enhance the 17th Judicial Circuit.”

Ms. Ruckman-Agustsson attended Northern Illinois University, graduating Summa Cum Laude in 1997 with a B.A. in Political Science.  In 2000, she received her Juris Doctor Magna Cum Laude from the University of Illinois Chicago School of Law.  Attorney Ruckman-Agustsson has been of counsel with the Rockford office of Heyl Roster since 2006, and became a partner of the firm in 2012.  She currently concentrates her legal practice on civil defense matters, including trucking defense, toxic tort, premises liability, legal malpractice, and workers’ compensation.

Commenting on her selection, Ms. Ruckman-Agustsson stated, “It is my honor and privilege to be selected by the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit to serve as the next associate judge. I look forward to this exciting opportunity to serve this amazing community.” 

Attorney Ruckman-Agustsson is a member of the Winnebago County Bar Association, the Illinois State Bar Association, and American Bar Association.  Her involvement with community and civic organizations includes leadership of the Chris and Jack Ruckman Memorial Music Scholarship Foundation, which provides scholarships to high school seniors and access to musical instruments, empowering children to nurture their passion for music without financial barriers.

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Deputy Court Administrator Nicole Ticknor announces that the 17th Judicial Circuit Court has released Season 2 of their podcast entitled “Learning with Laura Youngblut: Domestic Violence in Winnebago County.” Season two is a nine-part series that examines the juvenile court system and its intersection with family violence in Winnebago County, Illinois through the eyes of the host, Laura Youngblut. Guests include Judges Francis M. Martinez, Donna R. Honzel and Erin B. Buhl, and several other juvenile court stakeholders including CASA, the Department of Children and Family Services, and Juvenile Probation. This podcast was created with funds from the Illinois Criminal Justice Authority as part of the 17th Judicial Circuit’s Family Violence Coordinating Council. Episodes were recorded and produced locally at Future Memory Media.

Host Laura Youngblut stated, “I believe this podcast will provide insight into the juvenile justice system; which is often misunderstood.”  

Judge Jennifer Clifford, Chair of the Family Violence Coordinating Council 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, especially as it relates to child abuse and the juvenile court system. Family violence, child abuse and neglect, and juvenile crime are pervasive problems in our community and everyone can benefit from the information this resource provides.”

The podcast can be accessed at The podcast is also available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

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The Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts announced the following certified list of candidates who have applied for the associate judge vacancy in the 17th Circuit based on the impending retirement of Associate Judge Randy Wilt:

Tomiko L. Ballard     

Alesandra R. Friend Laird

Erin C. Hannigan

Scott P. Robinson

Andrew T. Smith

Jeffrey J. Zucchi

Aaron C. Buscemi

David M. Gill 

Joseph B. Kosek

Heidi E. Ruckman-Agustsson

Paul R. Vella  

Andrew J. Fisk

Elder Granger, II

Matthew R. Leisten   

Derrick J. Schmidt

Daniel T. Wilkins

The Circuit Judges of the 17th Circuit are inviting written comment regarding these candidates from all interested individuals and organizations.   Comments must be in writing and received by the Chief Judge no later than 5:00 p.m. on February 2, 2024.  Anonymous letters will not be accepted.  Letters will be placed in each of the candidate’s files.  There shall be no other direct or indirect contact with any Circuit or Associate Judge regarding an individual’s candidacy.

Anyone wishing to comment should direct their correspondence by U.S. mail to Chief Judge John S. Lowry, Winnebago County Courthouse, 400 West State Street, Suite 215, Rockford, IL 61101 or by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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The Illinois Supreme Court authorized the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit Court to post a notice of vacancy for the office of Associate Judge on December 18, 2023. This vacancy is based on the impending retirement of Associate Circuit Judge Randy Wilt, effective April 15, 2024.  

The original application deadline for this vacancy was set for Thursday, January 18, 2024. However, the application deadline changed to Wednesday, January 17, 2024.  

We kindly request that you take this updated information into account and proceed accordingly.

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Notice of Vacancy

The Illinois Supreme Court has authorized the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit Court to post a notice of vacancy for the office of Associate Judge. This vacancy is based on the impending retirement of Associate Circuit Judge Randy Wilt, effective April 15, 2024. The application period for this vacancy will remain open until January 17, 2024 (corrected from January 18, 2024).  

The 17th Judicial Circuit Veterans’ Court is celebrating its sixteenth graduation ceremony on Thursday, December 7th at 1:30 p.m. in Courtroom 217 of the Winnebago County Courthouse.  The Presiding Veterans’ Court Judge, John T. Gibbons, will be recognizing the graduates and their achievements during the ceremony.

The Veterans’ Court is a specialized Problem-Solving Court for justice involved veterans who are eligible for VA benefits.  The program is voluntary and targets all aspects of the reasons why the participants have found themselves to be involved in the criminal justice system. This Problem-Solving Court program is unique in that veterans are able to participate in the court with pending and post plea charges. Veterans in the program receive case management provided by a Veteran’s Justice Outreach Specialist who works through the Department of Veteran’s Affairs in Madison, WI.  Through the program, veterans are linked with a variety of treatment services available through Veteran’s Affairs in Rockford and in Madison, WI including drug and alcohol treatment as well as mental health treatment. Veterans also receive services from the Resource Intervention Center and Community based services.

The ultimate goal and purpose of the Veterans’ Court is to offer an opportunity for veterans involved in the criminal justice system to achieve stability and recovery in order to lead meaningful and more productive lives while minimizing the adverse impact of the Veteran’s criminal record on employment and education opportunities.

Please feel free to contact Emily Behnke for more information about the Veterans’ Court program and the sixteenth graduation.  Cameras will be allowed in the courtroom with prior approval.  Please contact Emily if you would like to have a camera in the courtroom so that parameters can be covered.  Interviews can also be arranged upon request. Judge Gibbons is available to speak to the press following the Graduation Ceremony.

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On Saturday, November 18, 2023, the Seventeenth Circuit Court celebrated its nineteenth annual National Adoption Day Celebration at the Winnebago County Criminal Justice Center.  At this event, Judges Francis M. Martinez, and Erin Buhl, along with Circuit Clerk Tom Klein, local social service agencies (DCFS, YSB, LSSI, Brightpoint and Camelot Care Center) and other court personnel volunteered their time to finalize 15 adoptions of children previously residing in foster care.

National Adoption Day is a collective national effort to raise awareness of the estimated 113,000 children in foster care that are ready for adoption and waiting for a family.  On this day, members of the judiciary, attorneys and social service agency professionals from all across the United States work together to finalize adoptions and celebrate all of the families participating in adoptions. Over the last nineteen years, a total of 436 children have been adopted into permanent loving families in celebration of National Adoption Day in Winnebago County.  

Chief Judge John S. Lowry stated, “It is a great privilege to play a role in creating permanent, loving homes for the children and families involved in National Adoption Day.  Today is truly a day of celebration.”  Judge Martinez commented, "This is a very special day for all of us who work with children and families in foster care.  It gives us great joy to participate in the adoptions of these young people into their 'forever' homes with loving families to call their own."

For more information about this event, please contact Deputy Court Administrator Kimberly Ackmann at 815-319-4831 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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The 17th Judicial Circuit Court is pleased to announce the reappointment of John S. Lowry to serve as Chief Judge for an additional two-year term, effective from January 1, 2024 to December 31, 2025. The decision was made by unanimous vote by the eleven Circuit Judges, reflecting their confidence in Chief Judge Lowry’s leadership and management of the judiciary.

Chief Judge Lowry has been instrumental in fostering a fair, efficient, and accessible legal system within the 17th Circuit Court. During his term of office and under his guidance, the court has planned and achieved significant milestones, including re-establishing a local Juvenile Justice Counsel, petitioning the Illinois Supreme Court for the allocation of two additional associate judges, continuing operations during a five-month fire remediation of Winnebago County Courthouse, and most recently, coordinating the implementation of the Illinois Pre-Trial Fairness Act.

The 17th Judicial Circuit is comprised of Winnebago County and Boone County, Illinois. The chief judge of a judicial circuit is a position created under the Illinois constitution.   The chief judge has “general administrative authority” over the court, including the assignment of cases.

Speaking about his reappointment, Chief Judge Lowry expressed his gratitude for the trust placed in him by his colleagues, stating, “I am deeply humbled to have been chosen for a second term as Chief Judge. The 17th Circuit is known for excellence and innovation throughout Illinois. I am grateful for the opportunity to work together with justice system stakeholders to help advance that reputation.”

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