Illinois Supreme Court Issues Reopening Guidelines

remote depositionOn May 20, the Illinois Supreme Court issued guidelines for resuming judicial branch operations amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Effective June 1, the state’s circuit courts may conduct in-person or remote hearings according to a schedule developed by the chief circuit judge.

Court Order M.R. 30370 modifies the Court’s March 17 order, which directed Illinois courts to hear essential court matters and proceedings – if feasible and subject to constitutional limitations – and nonessential matters and proceedings remotely, subject to limitations. Illinois’ courts have been operating under these precautionary measures since March 17 in order to minimize the spread of COVID-19.

Amended Guidance for Reopening Safely

COVID-19 is impacting jurisdictions across the state differently. While COVID-19 has hit many of the state’s metro areas hard, some rural communities have not experienced the same rate of widespread infection.

The updated Court guidelines recognize geographical differences and authorize chief circuit judges to develop plans for the resumption of court operations in their jurisdiction based on local conditions.

The Court asks that judges and court staff continue to plan and prioritize cases. The following factors should be considered by the chief judge in determining whether matters can be safely heard:

  • Deadlines which apply to a case or class of cases,
  • The length of time any appliable deadline has been suspended by order of the Supreme Court or the Circuit Court,
  • Applicable information from public health authorities,
  • Limitations in court facilities or staffing, and
  • Anticipated prejudice to any class of cases as a result of continued delay.

“Our courts around the state have risen to this enormous challenge to continue the Judicial Branch mission to protect the rights and liberties of all by providing equal access to justice, resolving disputes, and upholding the rule of law,” Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Anne M. Burke said in the press release. “The Court realizes that the health crisis is not over, but we must advance justice in a safe and organized manner.”

A Shift Toward Technology

In the operational guidelines, which were released alongside the order, the Court noted new efficiencies in the judicial branch brought about by the use of video conferencing and remote work capacity.

After June 1, jurisdictions are still urged to continue the use of remote hearings where appropriate. The Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts is exploring enhancing support of video conference technology for jurisdictions that lack resources. In addition, the Illinois Judicial College and state bar associations are planning additional trainings on remote hearings.

Other states, including New York, Michigan, and Wisconsin have also begun issuing guidance for the reopening of their state courts. Both Michigan and Wisconsin encourage the continued use of video conferencing.

Reopening guidelines from Illinois jurisdictions will be available on the Illinois Supreme Court’s website.

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