Illinois Courts Are Functioning During COVID-19 By Doing The One Thing They Try Never To Do

Apr 23, 2020

Illinois courts have cut their operations down to essential services due to the pandemic. And they’re forced to do the one thing they try never to do: postpone cases to another day.

By order of the Illinois Supreme Court, they’re pushing most cases back until at least May 18 -- if not longer.

Eugene Doherty is Chief Judge of the 17th Judicial Circuit, which covers Winnebago and Boone counties.

“What a huge job it is to have to figure out how to move a day's worth of cases. We're not moving days’ worth, but months’ worth. That's something we have not had to confront,” he said.

Judges are still hearing time-sensitive cases, including those for emergency orders of protection. Those cases can be handled remotely, with filing done online and a hearing with a judge held over the phone.

Doherty says cases that remain in-person have been condensed down to a few open courtrooms where it’s easier to social distance.

Certain time-sensitive juvenile cases are held and bond court is still open for new arrests. And the circuit continues to hold cases involving plea deals that could get people out of jail and on probation.

He says the thing courts are most concerned about going forward is having jurors once they’re cleared to have trials again. 

“I mean 99% would really rather not be here -- now we're asking them to come at a time when there is a public health concern about people gathering here,” said Doherty.

He says the circuit may space out reporting times for people in the jury pool to avoid 50 of them coming in at once.

Doherty says the courtroom setup may change too. He says courts are looking at ways to put fewer jurors in the jury box and seat others in the gallery.

The judge says he’s never seen a case tried like that, but they may have to for people to feel safe after the pandemic.