Most criminal and civil cases in the Cook County court system will be postponed for 30 days starting Tuesday (March 17) due to the spread of the coronavirus.
Chief Judge Timothy Evans made the announcement Friday (March 13) that court operations will proceed Monday (March 16). The 30-day postponement runs from Tuesday through April 15.
Evans said he took the action after consulting with the court’s 17 presiding judges, the County Board president, the county’s state’s attorney, public defender, sheriff and clerk of the Circuit Court, and representatives of local bar associations.
“We are modifying court operations to protect the public, court staff and the judiciary,” Evans said. “We will continue to identify the appropriate balance between allowing access to justice and minimizing the threat to public health. I am also asking everybody in the justice system to exercise patience and flexibility as we move forward in these unpredictable times. This is an unprecedented situation, and we may need to make more changes in the days ahead.”
No jury trials in criminal or civil matters will begin in the 30-day period. Individuals who have been summoned to jury duty from Tuesday through April 15 should not report. They will receive a new date for service.
Grand-jury proceedings will continue during the 30 days; and the proceedings may be held in courtrooms to provide more space and distance between people. Individuals who are serving in grand-jury proceedings must report to court.
For all adult criminal cases, all trials and many hearings scheduled in the 30-day period are postponed to a future date. Hearings that will proceed in the 30 days include bail hearings, arraignments and preliminary hearings. In addition, defendants may continue to enter into plea agreements to conclude their case. Any pretrial defendant may also request a bail review during the postponement.
In addition, for the 30 days, low-risk and medium-risk adults on probation do not need to meet with their probation officer in person. Probation officers have contacted clients to inform them that they will schedule meetings to be held either via video conferencing or phone. Clients deemed high-risk will still be required to report to their probation officers in person.
All traffic and misdemeanor matters scheduled in the 30 days are postponed to a future date.
For delinquency and criminal proceedings involving juveniles, the only matters that will occur during the 30 days are demands for trial and detention hearings that determine if a juvenile is held in custody while the case is pending.
Judges will hear cases of child abuse or neglect in which the state seeks protective custody of a child; and judges will hear emergency motions in which children are allegedly abused in foster care.
For domestic violence matters, petitioners may seek orders of protection during the 30 days. Litigants may also seek an order of protection related to an existing civil domestic relations case (such as dissolution of marriage). Emergency petitions may also be filed in child-support matters.
In the 30-day period, all civil matters deemed a non-emergency by party agreement are postponed to a future date. Emergency requests in civil matters will be permitted.
No orders for an eviction or foreclosure will be entered during the 30-day period.
Civil lawsuits may still be filed in person or via electronic filing.
For the 30 days, all courthouse Children’s rooms will be closed. Individuals who have court business should not bring children to court.
After marriage ceremonies conclude Monday, judges will not perform marriage ceremonies during the 30-day period.
Though there will be fewer cases, all courthouses will remain open. Court employees who do not need to be in a courtroom or office will be encouraged to work remotely.
In addition, Chief Judge Evans said, the Circuit Court of Cook County is following the guidance of the Illinois Supreme Court, and signs will be posted at all courthouses to indicate that individuals should not enter any courthouse if they:
- Have been in China, South Korea, Italy, Japan or Iran in the past 21 days.
- Reside or have close contact with anyone who has been in one of those countries in the last 21 days.
- Have been directed to quarantine, isolate or self-monitor at home for the coronavirus by any medical provider.
- Have been diagnosed with, or have had close contact with anyone diagnosed with COVID-19
- Are experiencing flu-like symptoms, including fever, cough or shortness of breath.
Evans said he understands that one of the conditions may apply to a person who plans to attend a court hearing that is permitted during the 30-day period. He said he is following the guidance of the Illinois Supreme Court and asking the judiciary to make reasonable accommodations and reschedule matters for individuals who cannot enter a courthouse due to one of the reasons.
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office said it has been working closely with the Circuit Court and criminal justice system partners.
“Our top priority is protecting the health, safety and rights of everyone who interacts with our court system,” the office said in a statement.
The State’s Attorney’s Office will remain open and work will continue. However, effective Tuesday, it will be suspending all non-essential criminal court, juvenile court and child-protection proceedings for 30 days to encourage social distancing and public health.
“Our staff will be reaching out to victims and witnesses of crime to inform them of the status of their case and next court date,” the office statement read.
Victims and witnesses with questions can contact the office’s Victim/Witness Unit team at 773-674-7200.
“We appreciate the collaboration of our partners in law enforcement and the court system; and we will continue to work together on behalf of public health, safety and justice for all during this unprecedented time,” the office statement concluded.