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Cook County courts go virtual after increase in state COVID-19 cases

Monday, November 23, 2020
Chicago Tribune
by Paige Fry

The Cook County chief judge entered an order Monday calling for all court matters to be held via videoconference except in “extraordinary or compelling circumstances,” according to the order.

The order made by Chief Judge Timothy Evans states that all matters in Cook County court will be conducted by videoconference and all judges and court employees except those “who are performing essential court operations” will work remotely, the order said. Attorneys and those who are self-represented can also participate in videoconferences from a location of their choosing.

As of Monday, 173 people working under the Office of the Chief Judge have tested positive for COVID-19, including 72 with the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, according to the court. At least 11 judges and 62 detention center residents have tested positive since the start of the pandemic.

Over the past week, Illinois has averaged 11,339 new cases per day. It was a decrease from the week earlier, which had an average of 12,384 cases per day, the highest seven-day average since the start of the pandemic.

According to the order, those who do not have access to the internet or a telephone can use space and equipment in the courthouse. Court reporters and interpreters will be remotely available for the video proceedings.

No bench trials in criminal cases or jury trials will be held until further notice, the order said. Jury trials were previously suspended earlier during the pandemic.

Criminal plea hearings can be conducted via Zoom, the order said.

The court also ordered that all prosecution and defense counsel review their cases to determine whether a change of circumstances may support a change in the defendant’s bail that would allow them to be released from jail. This is to help increase safety in the Cook County Jail, which has had at least 153 detainees who have tested positive.

Earlier this month, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office told its employees to stay at home. In-court proceedings at federal courthouses in Chicago and Rockford were also suspended by U.S. District Chief Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer on Nov. 12.



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