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Cook County’s chief judge announces expanded capacity for jury trials as COVID-19 guidelines loosen
Friday, July 16, 2021 Chicago Tribune by Megan Crepeau
Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans on Friday announced expanded capacity to hold trials going forward as COVID-19 restrictions ease and a backlog of felony cases looms.
Beginning next week, there will be 86 courtrooms in the county available for trials, 76 of which can be used for juries, thanks to reduced social-distancing guidelines, according to a news release from Evans’ office.
The Leighton Criminal Court Building is facing a serious backlog of felony cases, thanks to pandemic-related court slowdowns. And prosecutors are bracing themselves for what might be a flood of demands for trials, once the speedy-trial clock begins ticking again Oct. 1.
But in the news release, Evans notes there are currently 159 cases that are ready for trial, and with the expanded capacity those can be “comfortably” accommodated by the end of September.
And former criminal court judges who currently preside in other divisions of the court may be called in to preside over criminal trials, Evans said.
Separately, in a memo distributed to Leighton judges earlier this week, acting Presiding Judge Erica Reddick outlined the logistics for expanded jury trials there.
Up to six juries can be selected per week through July, and up to about 10 per week beginning in August, according to the memo, which was obtained by the Tribune.
Until recently, only one jury trial per week was held at Leighton.
And distancing requirements will ease such that jurors can be seated in jury boxes, with spectators in the gallery. Jury trials are no longer livestreamed to a public viewing room in a separate area.
Cases in which defendants have formally invoked their right to a speedy trial will be given top priority, according to the memo. The age of a case and the defendant’s custody status will also be used to determine priority.