Wellness checks and lines as Cook County courthouses open, hold more in-person hearings

At Leighton Criminal Courthouse, a large tent was constructed outside to preserve social distancing.

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A Cook County sheriff’s deputy keeps watch at the entrance to the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on Monday.

A Cook County sheriff’s deputy keeps watch at the entrance to the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on Monday.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Although more in-person hearings were held at Cook County courthouses Monday, there was more activity outside some buildings with lines and tents set up for wellness checks for those waiting to go inside.

At the Leighton Criminal Courthouse, sheriff’s deputies stationed outside questioned judges, lawyers, employees and others seeking to enter the courthouse about potential COVID-19 symptoms they may have.

Those without symptoms then went on to walk through a sectioned-off tent — designed to ensure social distancing —before they could pass through the front doors with face masks.

There were some lines to get inside the Daley Center, with a wait time that averaged 20 minutes, according to a spokeswoman for Chief Judge Timothy Evans.

Some who came to the Daley Center Monday were there for non-court related matters, including getting marriage licenses and birth certificates.

Once inside, security guards the Daley Center and criminal courthouse conducted temperature checks before permitting people to go through the usual security screening process.

“We expected to see some initial confusion, but so far everything went smoothly,” Evans said in a statement. “It was a very smooth transition. People were following the orders.”

Before venturing out to the courthouse, Evans urged people to contact their attorneys or clerks to see if they need be there in-person.

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A security guard administers a temperature check at the entrance to the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on Monday.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

The new coronavirus protection procedures were instituted as part of Evans’ latest court order allowing more in-person hearings.

But despite the new order, little changed. Most courtroom sessions and hearings are still being held via videoconferencing calls, as they have been since Evans halted most casework in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Many civil cases, including eviction and mortgage-foreclosure proceedings, will continue now, although no final judgments can be entered before July 31.

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Civil and criminal jury trials are still on hold.

Defendants who plead guilty in criminal cases will be able to have a sentencing hearing. Those who plead not guilty and opt for a bench trial, can have an in-person trial or on a video conference call.

But since the in-person options in those cases just became available, many hearings have yet to be scheduled, and thus few — if any — took place Monday, an assistant of Chief Criminal Courts Judge LeRoy K. Martin Jr. said.

Bond court calls and hearings involving misdemeanors and traffic tickets will continue to be held via videoconferencing.

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