More Cook County courtrooms reopen promising speedier resolutions
Dozens more Cook County courtrooms will be available for bench and jury trials beginning Friday, per a new order from Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans, helping accelerate the disposition of cases slowed by COVID-19 restrictions.
Coronavirus precautions established to ensure physical distancing limited the number of jury trials, which in recent months have required at least two courtrooms -- one for the trial, a second for jury deliberations, and a third space for public viewing.
New guidelines reducing the 6-foot distancing requirement to 3 feet means more courtrooms can be used for trials, according to the chief judge's office.
Currently, 159 criminal cases are ready for trial. According to Evans, the courts should be able to "comfortably" accommodate those requests before Oct. 1. On that date, the speedy trial requirements -- temporarily suspended by the Illinois Supreme Court during the pandemic -- will again be in effect.
"We should be able to accommodate anybody who answers ready for trial," said Evans in a prepared statement, adding that safely and efficiently reopening more courtrooms protects defendants' constitutional rights, as well as the rights of crime victims.
To accommodate trial demands in the coming months, former criminal court judges now serving in other divisions will act as "emergency judges," hearing criminal trials in the city and suburbs where necessary.
Cook County courts operated throughout the pandemic in person and through videoconferencing. Since April 2020 through May, the courts disposed of about 128,000 criminal cases, according to the chief judge's office.
Among them were 13,000 guilty pleas and more than 1,000 bench trials. A total of 39 jury trials took place -- 29 criminal and 10 civil cases -- since jury trials resumed in Cook County on March 22.