Illinois Supreme Court to hear oral arguments at NIU in DeKalb

Limited number of seats available for March 21 public to view in person; online viewing also available

DeKALB – The Illinois Supreme Court will leave its Springfield headquarters for a day this month to hear oral arguments at Northern Illinois University, offering a chance for area students and the public to witness state court proceedings.

The Supreme Court’s “ride the circuit” day will start at 10 a.m. March 21 at the Holmes Student Center, 340 Carroll Ave. on NIU campus in DeKalb, according to a news release.

All guests are asked to be seated by 9:30 a.m. Those who wish to view the proceedings live online may do so at

“The Court is so excited to continue its tradition of Riding the Circuit and bring oral arguments to Northern Illinois University,” said Chief Justice Mary Jane Theis in a news release. “It is such a pleasure to hold court in front of hundreds of students who are likely observing the work we do for the first time. My colleagues and I look forward to welcoming them and other local residents to DeKalb on March 21.”

Students and teachers from local schools also have been invited to participate either in person or watching live.

A limited number of seats are available for the public, according to the news release. Those interested should contact John Lupton at to request tickets. Those attending are asked to RSVP for a reserved seat by March 18. Backpacks and other large items or bags will not be allowed. A question-and-answer session will follow the oral arguments.

“We are honored to be hosting the Supreme Court of Illinois for the first time at NIU,” said NIU College of Law Dean Cassandra L. Hill in a news release. “The Supreme Court’s practice of hearing oral arguments is a crucial aspect of the American legal system, offering a dynamic interaction between the Court and those directly involved in a case. This valuable opportunity serves as not only a unique educational opportunity but also as a critical component of the legal process that can inspire a deeper appreciation for the legal system and its role in society.”

The two cases before the court that morning will be People v. Flournoy, about newly discovered evidence in a 1991 case where a person convicted of first-degree murder has argued the new evidence demonstrates his innocence; and Andrews W. Levenfield & Assoc. v. O’Brien, a case about two law firms seeking payment for legal fees from a former client.

The program is sponsored by the Illinois Supreme Court, Northern Illinois University and Northern Illinois University College of Law, the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts, the Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission and the DeKalb County Bar Association.

About the cases

In People v. Flournoy, the defendant was convicted of first-degree murder and armed robbery for shooting and killing a car dealer while robbing a car dealership in 1991. In 2021, defendant filed a pleading, claiming he has newly discovered evidence that: (1) demonstrates his actual innocence; (2) shows the State concealed and fabricated evidence; and (3) shows that he received ineffective assistance of counsel at trial. The lower courts denied relief to the defendant.

At issue before the Illinois Supreme Court is whether this newly discovered evidence may be used both to support defendant’s claim of actual innocence and to supplement his constitutional claim that the State concealed and fabricated evidence.

In Andrew W. Levenfeld & Assoc. v. O’Brien, two law firms sued their former clients to recover attorney fees for their services in an estate dispute. The clients had fired the law firms two months before the clients, represented by new counsel, settled their dispute. The law firms sought to recover the value of their legal services based on their contingency fee agreement with the clients. However, the contingency fee agreement did not specify how the law firms would split the contingency fee, an omission that violates the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct. The trial court found that the law firms were entitled to a reasonable fee, consisting of the contingency fee minus the amount the clients paid to new counsel.

The appellate court held that the violation of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct renders the contingency fee agreement unenforceable, and thus, the reasonable fee for the law firms cannot be based on the contingency fee. The appellate court remanded the case to the trial court to determine the reasonable value of the law firms’ services.

At issue before the Illinois Supreme Court is whether the law firms’ failure to specify how they would split the contingency fee renders the contingency fee agreement unenforceable and whether this failure prevents a court from considering the contingency rate when determining the reasonable value of the law firms’ services.

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