Posted on July 30, 2022

Can I Write A Letter To My Illinois Divorce Judge?

To the non-lawyer, litigation looks a lot like homework. In divorce litigation, you prepare paperwork, submit it to the judge, the judge reads the paperwork and then says “good job” or “sorry, I don’t agree.”

Judges like information. Judges like written information. Hmm…I bet the judge would really like a letter explaining what’s really going on in my Illinois divorce.

You are trying to be helpful, which is commendable, but you cannot send a letter to the divorce judge who is overseeing your Illinois divorce.

Communication from one party to the judge without the other party present (which is what a letter to the judge would be) is called “ex parte communication”

Ex parte communication is “a communication between counsel or a party and the court when opposing counsel or party is not present” Black’s Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019)

Ex parte communication between a litigant and a judge is not allowed in Illinois.

“A judge shall not initiate, permit, or consider ex parte communications, or consider other communications made to the judge outside the presence of the parties concerning a pending or impending proceeding”  Ill. Sup. Ct. R. 63(A)(5)(a)

Ex parte communication is only allowed when “the judge reasonably believes that no party will gain a procedural or tactical advantage as a result of the ex parte communication” Ill. Sup. Ct. R. 63(A)(5)(a)(i)

Whenever ex parte communication does occur, a judge must immediately alert all parties in the case.

“[T]he judge [must] make[] provision promptly to notify all other parties of the substance of the ex parte communication and allows an opportunity to respond.”  Ill. Sup. Ct. R. 63(A)(5)(a)(ii)

“If an ex parte communication in connection with any matter pending before the judge occurs, the judge shall disclose the circumstances and substance of said communication to all parties of record at the next hearing in open court and, if a court reporter is available.” Cook County Court Rule 17.2(a)

This usually means the judge doesn’t open your letter and, instead, sends the letter back to you with a note to both sides about what happened.

Illinois judges cannot even say, “Oops. I accidently read it. No big deal.” Illinois judges must always look professional and impartial.

“A judge should respect and comply with the law and should conduct himself or herself at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.” Ill. Sup. Ct. R. 62(A)

“It is not the mere receipt of the letter which creates the appearance of impropriety. If the judge refuses to read or consider the letter and, as soon as practicable, discloses it to the parties, an appearance of impropriety may be avoided.” In re Marriage of Wheatley, 697 NE 2d 938 – Ill: Appellate Court, 5th Dist. 1998

You cannot have your lawyer forward the letter to your divorce judge.

“No judge shall permit and no lawyer shall engage in ex parte communications, unless allowed by law, in connection with any matter pending before said judge” Cook County Court Rule 17.1

You cannot have your friends send a letter to your divorce judge telling the judge how great you are.

For the divorce case of In re Marriage of Wheatley, 697 NE 2d 938 – Ill: Appellate Court, 5th Dist. 1998, a former congressman wrote a judge describing what a great mother a litigant before that judge was. The judge’s final decision (even though the judge did not read the letter) was vacated.

In People v. Bradshaw, 171 Ill.App.3d 971, 975-76, 121 Ill.Dec. 791, 525 N.E.2d 1098 (1988), the bailiff in a criminal trial sent a note to the judge saying that the defendant was the bailiff’s daughter. The case was overturned due to this inappropriate communication.

Letters to the judge are not allowed because letters to judges look like what they are purporting to do: influence the judge outside of the court system.

“It matters not whether the trial judge was in fact prejudiced or biased by the letter he received. It is the appearance that he was so prejudiced or biased which mandates that his judgment be vacated and that the matter be remanded for a new trial before a judge who has not read the letter.” In re Marriage of Wheatley, 697 NE 2d 938 – Ill: Appellate Court, 5th Dist. 1998

If you want to write a letter, write a letter to your mother. She probably misses you.

If you want someone to present your case properly to the judge, contact my Chicago, Illinois family law firm and we will turn the contents of your proposed letter to the judge into evidence which the judge must consider.

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Russell Knight

Russell D. Knight has been practicing family law as a Chicago divorce lawyer since 2006. Russell D. Knight amicably resolves tough cases while remaining a strong advocate for his client’s interests.

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