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Folks Are In Limbo’: Cook County Court Shutdown Could Stretch Into July

Wednesday, May 27, 2020
WBEZ News
by Patrick Smith

Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans on Wednesday announced that he plans to keep the county’s sprawling court system all-but closed until July due to COVID-19, although a spokesman left open the possibility of resuming operations sooner if they can put safety precautions in place.

The announcement renews concerns over an increasing jail population where the cases of incarcerated individuals are stalled while newly arrested people are added to the facility, which has seen hundreds of coronavirus cases.

“Evans considered entering an order to resume more court proceedings on June 15. But he decided to extend the date to July 6 to allow enough time for all justice system stakeholders to ensure that more proceedings will be conducted in a way that protects everybody,” Evans’ spokesman Pat Milhizer said in a statement. “These conditions have not been finalized, but they will be consistent with best practices involving face coverings, physical distancing, room capacity limits and flexibility for those who cannot attend court due to illness or exposure to illness.”

Evans is extending an order that he first entered in March, which limits court hearings to emergencies only and requires almost all court business be conducted via videoconferencing.

Attorneys and advocates, while acknowledging the need to protect people from COVID-19, have worried that the court shutdown severely limits access for criminal defendants and grinds the wheels of justice to a halt.

“Many folks are in limbo. … We know that there is a large segment of the population who have pending cases who are looking to resolve their cases,” said Sharone Mitchell, director of the Illinois Justice Project. “So for that large group of people, they have really just been kind of stuck waiting. Some are stuck waiting at home. Some are stuck waiting on electronic monitoring. And we know about 4,000 are stuck waiting in Cook County Jail.”

Mitchell said he “can’t describe how frustrating” it is for people with no day in court to even look forward to.

 

 



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