Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD) System Illinois State Archives

County Court

Before they were abolished in 1964, county courts were the oldest governmental authorities in Illinois. The first was established by Virginia for the County of Illinois in 1779 and lasted until 1790, when the territorial period began. During this period, the two forms of county court created by law were the courts of quarter sessions, which existed from 1788 to 1805 and from 1809 to 1811; and the courts of common pleas, which existed from 1788 to 1809 and from 1811 to 1818. Other local courts which existed before statehood were the orphan's courts, from 1795 to 1805; justices' courts, 1818; and circuit courts from 1795 to 1812 and from 1814 to 1818. With statehood in 1818, the only courts of record in each county were the circuit courts, which were held by circuit-riding justices of the Illinois Supreme Court. Justices of the peace were not required to keep records of testimony.

In 1845, the State of Illinois established courts in Cook and Jo Daviess counties.1 In both cases, the judge was appointed by the legislature, and jurisdiction was generally concurrent with the circuit courts. The Constitution of 1848 established a system of county courts throughout the state. Judges were elected to four-year terms by their counties. Originally, jurisdiction was limited to probate cases and misdemeanors. In non-township organized counties, the judge was also the head of the three-member administrative county court, from 1848 to 1870.2

In 1849, county courts were given jurisdiction over delinquent county taxes, and in 1851 over delinquent township taxes.3 From 1853 to 1863, the jurisdiction of 25 county courts was extended to cover small civil suits, when the amount in question was below the levels fixed by statute.4

The Constitution of 1870 made jurisdiction of the county courts uniform throughout Illinois. Except in Cook County their authority was limited to probate, apprenticeship, and tax delinquency cases. Two provisions at first applied only to Cook County: counties with populations over 50,000, or more at the discretion of the Illinois General Assembly, were required to transfer probate jurisdiction to an independent county probate court; and county courts of counties with population over 100,000 enjoyed concurrent jurisdiction with circuit courts in all respects.5

In 1872, the legislature gave county courts concurrent jurisdiction with circuit courts in hearing appeals from justices of the peace, as well as exclusive jurisdiction over all misdemeanors.6

Additions to jurisdictional powers were frequent. In 1877, county courts gained jurisdiction over civil suits where the amount at issue was less than $1000; in 1901, the courts gained authority to commit dependent girls to industrial schools; in 1913, the courts were charged with review of applications for relief by mothers of dependent children; and in 1915 they were empowered to commit feeble-minded persons to state institutions.7

In 1962, by referendum, Article VI of the Constitution of 1870 was amended, abolishing the county courts effective in 1964. County judges became associate circuit court judges; while in Cook County they became circuit judges.8

Record Descriptions

1L. 1845, pp. 74, 275.
2Constitution of 1848, Article V, sections 1, 16, 17, 19.
3L. 1849, p. 122; L. 1851, p. 77.
4L. 1853, p. 262; L. 1854, p. 76; L. 1855, pp. 160, 194; L. 1857, pp. 36, 55, 128; L. 1859, p. 96; L. 1863, pp. 26, 43.
5Constitution of 1870, Article VI, sections 18, 20, 13.
6L. 1871-72, p. 325.
7L. 1877, p. 77; L. 1901, p. 263; L. 1913, p. 127; L. 1915, p. 245.
8Constitution of 1870, 1962 Amendment, Article VI, Schedule, Paragraphs 4: d, 4: c, section 14.