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Criminal jury trials again suspended ‘effective immediately’ at Chicago’s federal courthouse

U.S. District Chief Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer also said civil jury trials would be suspended effective Nov. 9 under the terms of a new general order. She said she would undo, alter or extend the order no later than Jan. 26.

Dirksen Federal Courthouse
Dirksen Federal Courthouse
Sun-Times File

In another sign of lost ground against the coronavirus pandemic, Chicago’s chief federal judge suspended criminal jury trials “effective immediately” Thursday, nearly three months after they slowly got rolling again at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse.

U.S. District Chief Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer also said civil jury trials would be suspended effective Nov. 9 under the terms of a new general order. She said she would undo, alter or extend the order no later than Jan. 26.

Pallmeyer said bench trials could go forward — and are even encouraged — as long as out-of-state witnesses properly quarantine or testify remotely. In-person hearings are otherwise “limited to situations in which remote procedures are unavailable.”

The work of Chicago’s downtown federal courthouse ground largely to a halt back in March, when the pandemic first took hold. Jury trials resumed in early August, starting with the trial of a man who would be convicted of threatening an FBI task force officer and others. It played out under new protocols that involved spreading jurors throughout the courtroom, limiting public seating and wiping down the witness stand when testimony ended.

Face masks were required, and jurors were given plastic bags full of supplies like hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes.

But positive COVID-19 tests among people either visiting or working at the courthouse have grown more frequent lately, prompting concerned comments from Pallmeyer. Earlier this week, she announced three positive tests in a single day.

“Many of us are so ‘over’ the pandemic,” Pallmeyer wrote in an earlier letter. “We are tired of the social restrictions and tired of wearing a mask. But the virus is not done with us.”