As I sat in court the other day, in a packed courtroom filled with coughing and sneezing people (including myself and the judge), I received a message from another attorney that there was a rumor spreading about a member of the bench being diagnosed with COVID-19. This rumor is still unconfirmed, but still, the idea that the courts would remain open in the midst of this spreading pandemic, was quite aggravating. People feel compelled to appear in court, to avoid a warrant, a default judgment, having their case dismissed or some other bad legal outcome, and keeping the courts open means that those people will feel the need to come to court. Some of them (perhaps unknowingly) will have the virus, and others will catch the virus, and then spread it throughout the rest of our community at large. It is for these reasons that health experts have implored authorities to shut down large gatherings.
Even with our schools and major sports leagues shutting down, courts were still punishing people for failing to appear. On Friday, I sat in a Chicago misdemeanor courtroom where a judge was issuing warrants.
Finally, some action has been taken. Cook County has announced that it will suspend most court activities beginning Tuesday March 17th, through April 15th.
From Chief Judge Timothy Evans:
Many criminal and civil cases in the Circuit Court of Cook County will be postponed for a 30-day period starting Tuesday (March 17) due to the spread of the coronavirus, Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans announced today.
Court operations will proceed as scheduled on Monday (March 16). The 30-day period runs from March 17 through April 15….
No jury trials in criminal or civil matters will begin in the 30 days. Individuals who have been summoned to jury duty from March 17 through April 15 should not report for jury duty. 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 currently serving in grand jury proceedings must report to court.
For all adult criminal cases, all trials and many hearings scheduled for the 30 days 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 this time.
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 conversation. 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.
For the 30-day period, all civil matters not deemed an 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, March 16, judges will not perform marriage ceremonies during the 30-day period.
Though there will be fewer cases, all courthouses will remain open for the 30 days. Court employees who do not need to be in a courtroom or office will be encouraged to work remotely during this time.
In addition, Lake County has announced that it will close the Park City and Mundelein field courts on Thursday, March 19th and Friday March 20th, and Kane County has announced that it will close its branch courts beginning Monday March 16th through March 27th. Their main courthouses in Waukegan and St. Charles remain open. No word yet from DuPage County.
I will update this as news becomes available.