News Releases

Associate Judge Joseph J. Bruce has announced that he will retire from his position on January 30, 2022. Judge Bruce was appointed as an associate judge on October 11, 2006. During his tenure, he has been assigned in Winnebago County and for the majority of his judicial career presided over family law and domestic violence cases. Judge Bruce has taught on domestic violence and family law topics for the Illinois Judicial Education Conference and New Judge Seminars, and is a current member of the Illinois Judicial College Domestic Violence Curriculum Planning Committee.   He was the Chair of the Illinois Judicial Benchbook on Domestic Violence and has been active in Supreme Court Committees developing standardized family law and domestic violence forms.

Eugene G. Doherty, Chief Judge of the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit, commented, “Judge Bruce has been a valued member of our judiciary and a faithful public servant. He has brought patience, wisdom, and dignity to some of the most difficult cases a judge can face.”

Judge Bruce is a graduate of Lawrence University (1974), and received his Juris Doctor from the George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C. (1977). He is an active member of the Illinois Judges Association, Illinois State Bar Association, and the Winnebago County Bar Association.

Judge Bruce stated, “I have been honored to serve our community as a Judge for the past 15 years. I hope to stay involved in judicial education and committee work after my retirement.”

A notice of vacancy for the office of associate judge based on the impending retirement of Judge Bruce is anticipated in early November.

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Associate Judge John H. Young has announced that he will retire from his position on January 3, 2022. Judge Young was appointed as an associate judge on April 3, 2007. During his tenure, he was assigned in both Winnebago and Boone Counties, but served the majority of his judicial career in Boone County.  He has presided in all types of courtrooms including civil, family and criminal.      

Eugene G. Doherty, Chief Judge of the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit, commented, “John Young has had an exemplary career as a judge. He has always demonstrated fairness, diligence and competence.”

Judge Young graduated from Belvidere High School (1978), received his undergraduate degree in political science from Judson College (1982), and received his Juris Doctor from Drake Law School (1985). Prior to taking the bench, he practiced law at the law firm of Reno & Zahm, LLP. He is an active member of the Illinois Judges Association, Illinois State Bar Association, Boone County Bar Association, and the Winnebago County Bar Association.

Judge Young stated, “I have been assisted by so many people: clerks, bailiffs, court reporters, interpreters, state’s attorneys, public defenders, private lawyers, court administration, and of course my judicial colleagues.   It has been an honor and a privilege to serve the citizens of Winnebago and Boone Counties.”

The Illinois Supreme Court has authorized the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit Court to post a notice of vacancy for an associate judgeship. The application period for this vacancy will remain open until November 5, 2021. A copy of the notice of vacancy is attached and is accessible at: http://17thcircuit.illinoiscourts.gov and http://illinoiscourts.gov.

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October 6, 2021 Notice of Vacancy - Associate Judge

The 17th Judicial Circuit has unanimously selected Judge John S. Lowry to serve as its next chief judge starting January 1, 2022.

“The Circuit has made an excellent selection,” said current Chief Judge Eugene Doherty.  “Judge Lowry has the experience and skills to be successful as chief judge, and he will have the strong support of all of his colleagues.”

Judge Lowry stated, “I am honored to be selected by my colleagues for this position.  I look forward to the opportunity to continue the 17th Circuit’s tradition of excellence.”

The chief judge of a judicial circuit is a position created under the Illinois constitution.   The chief judge has “general administrative authority” over the court, including the assignment of cases.

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Chief Judge Eugene G. Doherty is pleased to announce that the 17th Judicial Circuit Court, in partnership with Northern Illinois University, been awarded a Research and Evaluation Initiative grant from the Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women. The $413,000 award provides funding to conduct research to measure the efficacy of Winnebago County’s Domestic Violence Coordinated Court and its impact on survivor safety and engagement.

Nicole Ticknor, Deputy Court Administrator of the Domestic Violence Coordinated Court commented, “We are grateful for the opportunity to participate in a study that will provide findings that can be used to inform the practices of domestic violence courts throughout the country, and thankful for the ability to partner with a local university to conduct this research.”

Dr. Julie Crouch, Director of the Center for the Study of Family Violence and Sexual Assault at Northern Illinois University stated, “We look forward to continuing our partnership with the 17th Judicial Circuit Court and are grateful for the support from the Office of Violence Against Women, which will enable us to pursue this important work.”   

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Chief Judge Eugene G. Doherty announces that the 17th Judicial Circuit Court has launched an eviction mediation program in Winnebago County. The program is free and available to housing providers and tenants with pending residential eviction court cases. In addition to providing mediation, the program will refer parties to appropriate services, including rental assistance programs. Mediation sessions will occur virtually through the assistance of technology.

Chief Judge Doherty stated, “The Illinois Supreme Court has encouraged each judicial circuit to establish early resolution programs to allow for alternative dispute resolution of eviction cases. The court is pleased to be in a position to offer a platform that allows Winnebago County residents involved in eviction court an opportunity to reach an agreement that meets their respective needs.”

The Circuit partnered with the nonprofit organization Resolution Systems Institute (RSI), who will coordinate the program and deliver virtual mediation programming. RSI’s mission is to strengthen access to justice by enhancing court alternative dispute resolution systems. RSI was awarded a grant to support this program offering from the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation, with funding provided by the Illinois Department of Human Services.

For more information regarding participation in the eviction program, you may contact Program Coordinator Olga Ivari at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or at (312) 772-4493.

If you are a skilled mediator and wish to learn about serving the program, please contact RSI’s Eric Slepak at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Chief Judge Eugene G. Doherty announces that the 17th Judicial Circuit Court has released a podcast entitled "Learning with Laura Youngblut: Domestic Violence in Winnebago County." The nine-part series examines responses to domestic violence in Winnebago County, Illinois through the eyes of the host, Laura Youngblut. Episode guests include:

• Associate Judge Jennifer J. Clifford, 17th Judicial Circuit Court

 • Deputy Chief Kurt Whisenand, City of Rockford Police Department

• Manager of the Mayor’s Office of Domestic and Community Violence Prevention Jennifer Cacciapaglia, City of Rockford

• Clinical Professor Wendy Hinton Vaughn, NIU College of Law

This podcast was created with funds from the Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women and is a project under the Winnebago County Domestic Violence Coordinated Court’s role as a national Domestic Violence Mentor Court.

Host Laura Youngblut stated, "I am humbled to be part of this project which provides information about domestic violence and the criminal justice system from the perspective of a person with no previous knowledge about these topics. This resource brings awareness to an important community issue and can provide the listener with information on how to best support those who work in or are going through this process."

Nicole Ticknor, Deputy Court Administrator of the Domestic Violence Coordinated Court commented, "We hope this project provides community members and other professionals with a behind-the-scenes look at our community’s collaborative response to domestic violence. Even those with some familiarity of the legal system will benefit from hearing the individual perspectives of the response to domestic violence in each episode." 

The podcast can be accessed at learningwithlauryoungblut.buzzsprout.com or at the 17th Judicial Circuit’s website. The podcast is also available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

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Chief Judge Eugene G. Doherty is pleased to announce that the Winnebago County Circuit Court has been selected as a recipient of a Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women Justice for Families Program grant award. The $550,000 award will provide continued support for the Winnebago County Domestic Violence Coordinated Court, including funding for survivor advocacy within the court system. To date, 1.4 million dollars in Justice for Families Program funding has been awarded to support and enhance the Winnebago County Domestic Violence Coordinated Court.

Nicole Ticknor, Deputy Court Administrator of the Domestic Violence Coordinated Court commented, “We are thrilled to be selected for continued funding from the Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women. This continued federal support for the work of our Domestic Violence Coordinated Courts demonstrates Winnebago County’s ongoing national leadership and innovation in the criminal justice system’s response to domestic violence.” 

Honorable Randy Wilt, Presiding Judge of the Domestic Violence Coordinated Court stated, “The funding provided by the Office on Violence Against Women is integral to the functions of our Domestic Violence Coordinated Court. With this funding, we can continue to expand upon the foundation established by this court which dates back to 2012.”

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Chief Judge Eugene Doherty announced today that, effective Monday, August 30, the Circuit Court will return to the requirement that all persons in the courthouse, regardless of vaccination status, must be masked.

“It’s disappointing to have to take step backwards,” said Chief Judge Doherty, referring to the fact that masks had previously not been required for fully vaccinated persons.  “Still, the court has met its responsibilities during the pandemic and will continue to do so.  I know that litigants, lawyers, and jurors have been extremely cooperative with our measures relating to public health, and I have every expectation that they will continue to be.”

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As a result of authority granted by the Illinois Supreme Court, the 17th Judicial Circuit will take a different approach to social distancing in Boone and Winnebago Counties starting August 2, 2021.

“We are very much aware of the threat posed by the Delta variant to unvaccinated persons, but CDC guidelines do not require social distancing for those who are vaccinated,” said Eugene Doherty, Chief Judge of the 17th Circuit.  “We also know that, with widespread availability of the vaccine, people have had the opportunity to take the most important step toward self-protection -- vaccination.”  Consequently, Chief Judge Doherty said, the Circuit will no longer lay out its jury trial courtrooms on the assumption that all jurors must maintain six feet of separation during trials.  “Jurors who have, for their own reasons, made the decision not to be vaccinated and who wish to be socially distant from other jurors will be encouraged to let the court know of that request,” Doherty said.

Adhering to presumed six-foot distancing for all jurors has required the 17th Circuit to operate at reduced jury trial capacity.  In Winnebago County, for example, only two criminal courtrooms are capable of permitting such distancing for all jurors, instead of the usual eight courtrooms that might hear criminal jury trials.   “Throughout the State, we have returned to 100% capacity for a variety of different public activities and buildings,” Doherty said.  “We would like to think that affording accused defendants their constitutional right to a jury trial is at least as important as many of the entertainment venues which have now returned to full capacity.”

Current CDC data shows that approximately two-thirds of adults in the 17th Circuit are partially vaccinated, and more than half are fully vaccinated. Doherty encourages all unvaccinated 17th Circuit residents to assess whether now is the time for them to consider getting the vaccine.

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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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