The Illinois Supreme Court today announced a pilot program utilizing volunteer pro bono attorneys to reduce the backlog of criminal appeals that are currently pending with the Office of the State Appellate Defender (OSAD) across the state.

In this six-month pilot program, pro bono attorneys will help reduce the backlog by substituting for OSAD in certain criminal appeals. The pilot program will launch in the First and Second Districts of the Appellate Court with managerial assistance from the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts. Upon favorable assessment of the pilot program, it would be expanded to include the Third, Fourth and Fifth District Appellate Courts.

Interested attorneys are asked to fill out the “Volunteer Pro Bono Program Attorney Application” available online. The applicant will be asked to provide information necessary for participation, including appellate experience, willingness to work under the supervision of counsel approved as a volunteer attorney in the program, prior experience clerking for a Supreme Court or Appellate Court Justice, or working in the appellate division of a state or federal agency. Other criteria for approval as a volunteer pro bono attorney include up-to-date malpractice insurance, no ARDC disciplinary filings and five years’ experience as a licensed attorney with no ARDC disciplines. Applicants who do not meet the criteria may still participate if the applicant agrees to work under the supervision of an attorney who has the requisite experience.

Under this program, the OSAD will assign cases to an approved pro bono attorney, who then has seven days to decide whether to retain the case. Once the new pro bono attorney files a motion to substitute as counsel, OSAD will make a motion to withdraw. Cases in the pilot program will consist of direct appeals in both jury and non-jury cases, with a record of 1,300 pages or less. Oral argument in these cases will be strongly encouraged so approved attorneys can gain valuable experience arguing before the Appellate Court.

OSAD currently has available the following materials to assist volunteer attorneys in their preparation of briefs on appeal: Criminal Law Handbook and Monthly Digests, Handbook on Briefs and Oral Argument, and Illinois Supreme Court Pending Issues. These items are available on the OSAD website. OSAD will also provide online video training on appellate advocacy to volunteer attorneys who are interested.