Commentary: Illinois Supreme Court fills the big job vacancy that few noticed

After an application process that attracted little notice and a handful of candidates, the state Supreme Court on Thursday hired a new Illinois Appellate Defender.

James E. Chadd, a current deputy state public defender, will replace Michael Pelletier, the retiring head of the Office of the State Appellate Defender. The job involves overseeing the work of about 230 employees, mostly lawyers, who handle the criminal appeals for indigent defendants.

In a press release posted Thursday on the Illinois Supreme Court website, Chief Justice Lloyd Karmeier praised Chadd’s experience in handling both the legal and administrative responsibilities, calling him “fiercely committed to the agency’s mission…”

Chadd takes over the office amid budget limits that have raised the delays in filing appeals for defendants beyond a point that a federal judge several years ago found violates the right of defendants.

Despite the importance of the job, as we reported earlier this month, the process for choosing the new head proceeded quickly and without the kind of outreach that might have produced a plentiful crop of candidates – only five candidates applied in time. The announcement of Chadd, who is one of two deputies to Pelletier, as the new head is in keeping with that button-down approach: It was made by Pelletier over OSAD’s internal message system Thursday morning.

Then, later Thursday afternoon, the Supreme Court placed a notice on its website announcing the appointment.

This is no fault of Chadd’s, and we wish him the best as he faces the challenges ahead. Particularly we hope that he will arrive at creative solutions for the serious backlog of cases that face the office: it is not filing opening briefs until more than 20 months after its clients have been sentenced, so that the clients are waiting roughly two and a half years to hear how the appellate court has resolved their appeals.

Correction: An earlier version of this commentary misstated James Chadd’s current title.