CHICAGO (CBS) — Cook County’s court system is going virtual as much as possible, in an effort to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans has issued an order that all court matters should be conducted by teleconference or videoconference except in “extraordinary or compelling circumstances.” No bench trials or jury trials of any kind will be held until further notice. Jury trials already had been on hold due to the pandemic.
Court employees also must work remotely, “except those performing essential operations,” according to Evans’ office. Judges will be allowed to conduct teleconferences or videoconferences from their courthouse.
The order also holds that no bench trials in criminal cases or jury trials of any kind shall be held until further order of the court. While jury trials have not proceeded during the pandemic, bench trials had been allowed in all cases if all parties agreed.
Plea hearings also may be conducted by videoconference.
“These actions are needed to protect public health, as we continue to monitor this pandemic,” Evans said in a statement. “Our system of justice has continued to hear all necessary and urgent matters, and today’s order does not change that. I commend everybody in the justice system for their flexibility in this unprecedented period of history.”
Evans also ordered prosecutors and defense attorneys to review their cases to determine whether they could support reducing bail for defendants currently in jail to allow them to be released from lockup during the new wave of the pandemic.
Priority will be given to motions to reduce bail for:
- People at elevated risk for contracting COVID-19, due to age or underlying health condition,
- Pregnant women,
- People confined only on misdemeanor charges,
- People confined on non-violent Class 3 and 4 felony charges who are eligible for probation,
- Defendants confined because they cannot afford monetary bond set in their cases,
- Defendants released on electronic monitoring who have been compliant with bail conditions,
- People held on a warrant or allegation of violation of parole or probation who are not charged with or suspected of a violent crime,
- Those in jail or on electronic monitoring with no place to stay.
Evans also ordered probation officers and caseworkers to hold essential meetings with clients only by videoconference or teleconference whenever reasonably possible.
Marriages shall be performed by videoconference and only by appointment.
Cases involving traffic violations or misdemeanor charges won’t be held in person until further court order, and will be held only by videoconference.
In instances when hearings are conducted in person, everyone in the courthouse must wear a mask and maintain social distancing. Temperature checks will be conducted, and no one will be allowed to enter court if their temperature is 100.4° or higher.
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