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THE LAW PROVIDING FOR A MUNICIPAL COURT IN CHICAGO.
ROBERT MCMURDY, OF CHICAGO.
Our constitution has been amended and Chicago's incidental demand for relief from her justice of the peace system has been met, under the amendment to the constitution, by the creation of a new court with many features so unusual and so much at variance with the expectations of those who voted for the Amendment as to warrant careful study,
It was said of a certain history of New York that while admirable, it was subject to the objection that it commenced at the beginning of the world. No doubt one could better understand the history of New York if he first digested the prior history of the world. Certainly we can best comprehend the new law which established a Municipal Court in Chicago if we consider some antecedent conditions and facts.
The population of Chicago is so heterogeneous, so restless, so virile, so diversified in the matter of previous condition, customs, manner and thought that it becomes in any case difficult to make a law to fit the whole. Its very size, little comprehended, is an important factor. In area it is the third city in the world. In number of human beings, only three outside of the United States exceed it, and it equals the combined population of North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. According to the census of 1900, over half a million of our people are for
eign born and over a million more are of foreign extractionover a million and a half of foreign birth and extraction. For every inhabitant of native stock there are living here three of foreign stock. And every nation is represented;
“English and Irish, French and Spanish,
In one conglomeration.
This tremendous and widely scattered population furnishes a great amount of litigation that is now brought before our Justices of the Peace. We have about 100,000 civil cases in these courts every year.
The disposition of these cases is a problem in itself. But the remaining cases, namely, those of a criminal and quasi-criminal character which arise in the Police Courts and which generally involve the liberty of our humble citizens, constitute the really difficult puzzle of such a metropolis. The number of persons arrested in 1905 was 68,957 (188 a day, or one in 25 of our population.) Against nearly 12,000 of these more than one charge was preferred. The total number of charges was 82,572; of these 50,436 were dismissed; more than one-half of the prisoners were discharged. Out of the number discharged (over 38,000) there were, of course, many thousands who never should have been arrested. The number of arrests last year is below the usual and in hard times the number is noticeably increased.
To dispose of this vast array of cases, brought at the rate of over 500 a day, under the peculiar conditions of our mixed population, is a problem which should be treated by itself; it should not be mixed up with any other problem nor made subordinate to any other. It is large enough and important enough to be worked out by itself and is worthy of the best talent we have. I am aware of no higher service which can be rendered to the community than the equitable settlement from day to day of these causes of the poor.
As to the method of disposing of the civil cases there has never been much complaint, except in two particulars: First and foremost and mainly, that defendants are compelled to litigate in parts of this county remote from their residences and places of business; and, Second, that the justices have been paid by fees instead of by a salary. When this has been said we have recorded about all the objections ever urged to the justices with respect to civil cases. Our constable evil stands by itself and need not be referred to, as this article is intended to touch upon the new law in so far only as it relates to the new court.
Our Police Courts, on the other hand, have been the subject of much unfavorable criticism and severe condemnation. It is strange, however, how lightly the acknowledged evils rest upon the minds and the consciences of our people. This class of courts has been described as “the eyes of a municipality." In my humble opinion, we have no single problem to compare with this. Those who are drawn into these courts, aside from the matter of elections, hardly come into physical contact with any branch of our Government in any
other way. They form their ideas of our Government largely from the kind of justice dispensed in our Police Courts. It would seem near-sighted for us not to give the great number of people assembling here day after day a better idea of our institutions than they must now carry away with them to their homes and their neighbors. In this matter we seem to have entirely lost our sense of proportion. Now and then some citizen, horrified when his attention is called to the injustice resulting from such bad conditions, raises a plaintive wail, but it is soon lost in the greater sounds of city life, and we go on maiming our citizenship in the same old way, expecting the victims of the system to love their government in times of peace and fight for it in times of war.
But let us stop for a moment, in passing, to consider what is our Justice of the Peace system in general.
The fundamental idea dates back 800 years. Our forefathers brought this system with them to Plymouth. We find it preserved in the Ordinance of 1787. Justices of the Peace were provided for in our Constitution of 1818 and the First General Assembly established Justice's Courts which should carry justice to every man's door. Our Supreme Court in 1825 thus speaks of them:
“The object of the Legislature in establishing these courts was to dispense with technical forms and pleadings, and require causes to be disposed of with as little delay and expense as possible."
“Justices of the Peace are established in every township of the State, to enable parties not acquainted with the formal requirements of law to obtain speedy trials, without pleadings, and without being compelled to employ counsel skilled in the law to assist.”
Bliss v. Harris, 70 Ill. 343-5.
There are in Illinois 3,800 vf this class of officers. The justice of the peace is an institution of every American State, and of England, and I suppose of her colonies. There has never been any demand for the abolition of the institution. The system has had its imperfections, and these have been remedied from time to time, and to a greater or less degree, but in this county we have been hampered in this regard by our Constitution. The abolition of the fee system we all understood was utterly impossible without an amendment to the constitution, but we thought that we might get rid of the greater evil of compelling a defendant to dance attendance in a remote part of the county, often before a justice who had prejudged the case, and sometimes at an hour which compelled the litigant and witnesses to spend the night near the scene of action. We had a remedy in mind. It was thought by some that the
evil could be corrected by limiting the jurisdiction of the Justices to districts less in extent than the county. Long ago we recognized and tried to ameliorate the evils attending the territorial jurisdiction of the Justices of the Peace throughout the whole county. In 1881, at our instance, the General Assembly passed an act intended to give relief to the extent of providing that while each of the other counties of the State should constitute a justice's district, Cook county should be divided into two; one the city of Chicago; and the other the rest of the county: and to the limits of each of these two districts the jurisdiction of all Justices of the Peace within the same was expressly limited. But our Supreme Court, in the following year, declared that this act violated the uniformity provision of the Constitution. The Court says:
“At the time the constitution was adopted the territorial jurisdiction of Justices of the Peace was coextensive with their counties throughout the State, and has ever been since the organization of the Government, and the constitution adopts that division until a change shall be made, which it authorizes, with the limitation that when made the jurisdictional districts shall be uniform. And to be uniform, what does that instrument require? Manifestly, when counties are adopted as a basis of districting, that no other political division but counties can be adopted in part:
it follows that the formation of Cook county into two districts, whilst every other county in the State constitutes but one district, is a violation of the constitutional requirement of uniformity."
People v. Meech, 101 Ill., 200-3. From that time forward, evidenced publicly by bills introduced in the General Assembly, we were trying in many ways which we considered ingenious to arrive at a plan which should circumvent at the same time the Constitution and the Supreme Court. This, however, proved a large contract. Believing that this was the one thing concerning Justices of the Peace which was expected of us by the local bar, we of the