News Releases

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.

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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."

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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.

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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.”

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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.   

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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.

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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.

                                                                                                           

On April 23, 2021, Attorney David J. Doll will retire after serving four years as Winnebago County Public Defender. 

Mr. Doll’s legal career has been dedicated to service in the Winnebago County Public Defender’s Office. He has been employed in the office since 1993, and held the position of First Deputy Public Defender from 2004, until his appointment as the Public Defender in December 2016.  Mr. Doll completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Illinois and received his Juris Doctor from Southern Illinois University Law School in 1992.

In addition to his administrative responsibilities as Public Defender, Mr. Doll kept an active caseload. He primarily works with individuals connected to sexually violent offenses, and supported those clients as they worked towards rehabilitation. He is a member of the PATH Court, and represented individuals with a history or connection to being trafficked.

During his time in the Public Defender’s Office, Mr. Doll was instrumental in the planning, implementation, and ongoing support of Winnebago County’s consolidated case management system. He is an active member of the Winnebago County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and the Illinois Public Defender Association.

“This County has been extremely fortunate to have the benefit of Dave Doll’s service,” said Chief Judge Eugene Doherty. “He has ensured that competent and faithful representation was provided by his office as required by our Constitutional guarantees. More than that, though, he has been a creative and cooperative partner in creating efficiencies in our system. He has really made his mark.”

Announcements as to a retirement reception for Mr. Doll and the posting for the position of Winnebago County Public Defender will be made at a later date.

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Jury trials have been paused in Winnebago and Boone Counties since last fall due to COVID-19, and the Court today set the following targets for resumption of jury service:

  • Grand jury:  new panels will be sworn in at the beginning of February.
  • Criminal jury trials:  will resume in March 2021.
  • Civil jury trials:  will resume in May 2021.

“We were able to pause some of the Court’s essential work to help mitigate the community spread of the virus, but we must make plans to bring back these vital functions,” said Chief Judge Eugene Doherty.  “When jurors are asked to report, they will see the extensive preparations undertaken with their safety in mind.”

Those with cases in the courthouse should be aware that many proceedings have been moved to a virtual platform.  Litigants with questions about attending court remotely should go to https://tinyurl.com/virtualcourt17.

PDF of Press Release

The Illinois Supreme Court has appointed Debbie Jarvis, Director of Court Services for the 17th Judicial Circuit, to sit as a member of the Illinois Supreme Court Probation Policy Advisory Board. This Board discusses and provides insight and input to the Court on topics associated with the policies and operations of probation and court services for the State of Illinois. Her term is set to begin on December 1, 2020, and extend through November 2023.

Jarvis began her professional career in the Boone County Probation Department in 1998, where she was named Deputy Director in 2014.   In June 2019, Jarvis was selected to serve as the 17th Circuit’s Director of Court Services; in that capacity, she oversees all pretrial services and probation officers for the circuit. She has been a leader in the implementation of evidence-based initiatives including the use of cognitive based counseling programming, risk assessment tools, and the creation of the Boone County Drug Court.

Deb Jarvis received a bachelor’s degree in Sociology/Criminology from Northern Illinois University.   She is member of the Boone County Behavioral Health Task Force and serves as Co-Chair of the Boone County Drug Prevention Coalition.

Commenting on this appointment, Chief Judge Eugene Doherty said, “it is no surprise that the Supreme Court recognized Deb Jarvis’ talent. She will be a great addition to the Board.”

PDF of Press Release

Due to the growth of COVID in our area, the 17th Judicial Circuit announced that it is implementing a pause in jury trials effective November 23, 2020, through the end of January 2021.  Chief Judge Eugene Doherty advises that, although the Court has already made extensive use of remote virtual hearings in 2020, it will be increasing its reliance on them to minimize the number of persons who must enter courthouse buildings.  All court facilities remain open.

“This is a step taken out of caution,” Chief Judge Doherty said.  “We have been very successful in minimizing the spread of virus in our facilities, but we know that the situation in the community is changing.  We must all be mindful of the risk.” 

Judge Doherty noted that litigants should be aware of the following:

 •         Litigants should be given instructions on how to attend court remotely, but if they have questions they should refer to https://tinyurl.com/IL17thVC.

 •         Some court locations may be moved or case times rescheduled.  Litigants should make sure that the Circuit Clerk has their current contact information, including email address, to ensure proper notification.

•         Any litigants who must appear in person are strongly discouraged from bringing other persons to court with them.

“We aren’t operating as we did a year ago, but we won’t be shut down to the degree we were in the spring,” Judge Doherty said.  “The continued good work and cooperation of  attorneys, staff, and the public have gotten us through this so far, and we are optimistic that the end is in sight.”

PDF of Press Release and Adminisrtrative Order 2020-28

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