Page images
PDF
EPUB
[blocks in formation]

late lamented Practice Commission tried to draft an effective bill, but after agreeing upon its terms were so doubtful of its constitutionality that we omitted it from our list of recommendations.

When, at length, the Civic Federation, and later its creature, the New Charter Convention, took up its mission of consolidating the taxing bodies of the county, the problem of limiting the territorial jurisdiction of the Justices of the Peace of the county and of eliminating the fee system became the tail to the consolidation kite. The Justice of the Peace question was always treated as the minor and subordinate question.

Now, be it noted, that during all the discussion and in all the acres of literature which appeared after as well as before the passage of the Amendment, until the author of the new law made the discovery that the word “jurisdiction" might refer to subject matter as well as territory, it was never suggested, intimated or hinted that the courts which should be established should be given any greater jurisdiction in respect of subject matter than Justices of the Peace are generally given by law. Indeed, no one ever thought of such a thing. I was a member of the executive committee of the Civic Federation during nearly all of this time and I never heard even in the "inner circle” any suggestion of such a thing. The voters were certainly not wittingly deceived and they ought not now to be taken advantage of, even if such an interpretation as is now sought to be given the Amendment is tenable. It is admitted that this meaning of the word was never thought of, but it is said: “The purpose of the constitutional amendment, however, is to be determined solely from its language, viewed in the light of conditions existing at the time of its adoption.” It is fashionable but not considered defensible to deliberately put a “joker” into an enactment. The argument is, nevertheless, that if the “joker” gets in without any act of yours, you are at liberty to take advant

[ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

:

age of it. But “viewed in the light of conditions” the word must be held to refer to territorial jurisdiction, for it never was claimed that what we needed or wanted was a larger jurisdiction of subject matter for our Justice Courts or any substitute which might be established therefor. The words of the Enactment, and the purpose thereof as stated by its proponents, will so show.

The pertinent language of the Amendment is as follows:

“In case the General Assembly shall create municipal courts in the city of Chicago, it may abolish the offices of justices of the peace, police magistrates and constables in and for the territory within said city, and may limit the jurisdiction of justices of the peace in the territory of said county of Cook outside of said city to that territory, and in such case the jurisdiction and practice of said municipal courts shall be such as the General Assembly shall prescribe; and the General Assembly may pass all laws which it may deem requisite to effectually provide a complete system of local municipal government in and for the city of Chicago.'

It is significant, in view of what has been said, that the provisions of this amendment are that in case the General Assembly shall create municipal "courts” the jurisdiction thereof shall be such as the General Assembly shall prescribe. The word "courts" is plural and thereby indicates that what was in mind was the establishment of district courts or courts in separate districts, as had been much talked of, on which account it was necessary to provide that the jurisdiction of these Courts should be such as might be prescribed—that is to say, limited in each case under certain restrictions to the district in which the court should be situated. Moreover, the word “jurisdiction” occurs in the clause which concerns the question of territory (the word territory being therein used three times). It will be specially noted that the phrase "the jurisdiction

of said

courts shall be such as the General Assembly shall prescribe” is immediately pre

[ocr errors]

*

*

*

[blocks in formation]

ceded by the phrase granting to the General Assembly the power to "limit the jurisdiction of Justices of the Peace in the territory of said County of Cook outside of said city to that territory.” The use of the word “jurisdiction” in the anterior clause is exclusively territorial and it would be a stretch of construction to the snapping point to say that the word is used in a different sense in the very next clause in the same sentence.

After the Civic Federation had called together the New Charter Convention, consisting mainly of representatives of various clubs and civic organizations, for the purpose of considering the feasibility of asking for the passage of the Constitutional Amendment, the Executive Committee of the Convention made a report, on December 15, 1902, as to what was sought to be accomplished by the Amendment, Section 3 of which is in the following words:

“The reform of local minor courts, and the adoption of an adequate municipal judicial system FOR POLICE CASES AND MINOR CIVIL CASES AND MATTERS; and it may be, for that purpose, the abolishing of the offices of justices of the peace and constables for Chicago and the substitution therefor of other local DISTRICT or municipal courts and officers."

The new courts, then, were to be district courts-or municipal courts (plural)—and they were to be for the disposition of minor cases; in fact, they were to have the same jurisdiction as to subject matter as Justices of the Peace.

In July, 1904, the Campaign Committee of the Convention issued an appeal in which they set forth the purposes of the Amendment and urged the voters to support it. In this pamphlet the language just quoted is repeated, and under the heading “MINOR COURT CHANGES”' a committee report of the Illinois State Bar Association is quoted, in which occur these words: “Local DISTRICT courts of record with salaried judges

should take the place of the justices

*

*

[ocr errors]

*

[ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors][merged small]

We thus have of record, what everybody concedes, that there was no intention on the part of anyone, before the adoption of the Amendment, to increase the jurisdiction of the new courts as to subject matter, but to limit them to the persons found within the district.

What jurisdiction of subject matter is provided for the new courts—or court, for the plural is dodged by making one court with branches in districts, and in certain cases limiting the jurisdiction over the person to those persons residing or found within the district? Let the author of the bill speak:

“The jurisdiction of the court will be partly direct, consisting of cases which litigants are at liberty to commence in it, and partly indirect, consisting of cases which may be transferred to it by other courts of competent jurisdiction.

Its direct jurisdiction in civil cases will embrace all forms of actions at law for the recovery of money or personal property. Its direct jurisdiction in criminal cases will extend to all cases excepting those where the punishment may be death or confinement in the penitentiary. Its direct jurisdiction will embrace all suits of every kind and nature, whether civil or criminal, and whether at law or in equity, which may be transferred to it from the circuit, superior and criminal courts of Cook county for trial and disposition. The judges of the municipal court, therefore, may be called upon to try not nly that class of cases now tried by justices of the peace, but also chancery cases, murder cases, and in fact all cases which may be tried by a circuit or superior court judge."

Within the last few days the matter has been stated a little differently in a public pamphlet in these words:

"This Court can try murder cases and hang the defendant if found guilty. [This is the first sentence.

[This is the first sentence. The sanguinary jurisdiction of the new court seems to be the occasion of special joy, perhaps because of the suggestion of dignity involved in strangling a brother to death!] The Criminal Court

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

may transfer any criminal case whatsoever to this court for final trial.

This Court has original jurisdiction in all non-penitentiary criminal cases.

All actions on contracts, even though millions be involved, may be begun in this court, and there finally determined.

This Court has like unlimited jurisdiction of all actions for injury to or conversion of personal property, or for the recovery of personal property.

All injunction cases, all personal injury cases, in fact any and every case begun in the Circuit or the Superior Courts, whether at law or in equity, may be moved to this Court for final trial.

In addition, the Municipal Court has jurisdiction over all cases where the Justices of the Peace had jurisdiction. The Justices were limited to cases where not more than $200 was involved. The limit of the Municipal Court on this class of cases is raised to $1,000."

This is a neat array, in view of the fact that the people were told they were to have “minor” courts, courts for the disposition of “minor” cases. The situation becomes ludicrous when it is remembered that the original bill for this act provided, as an adjunct to the court, a second grand jury in Cook county.

This new court with its twenty-seven judges and its chief justice is expected to dispose of the cases heretofore disposed of by fifty-two justices; all the long calendar of cases in its added jurisdiction; whatever may be transferred to it by other courts; all the business which would rush to it at once, because it would not be behind in its calendars, as the local courts now are; and all that would come to it because its fees are smaller than those of the local courts and in instances where the practice of the new court, differing from the general practice, would favor the plaintiff. Moreover, it is provided that in civil cases involving $1,000 or less and in ordinary quasicriminal cases there shall be no appeal. The relief is by writ

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »