Cook County courts extend COVID-19 precautions into July, further delaying most criminal, civil cases

Chief Judge Timothy Evans had considered reopening more of the courts operations in mid-June, according to a early draft of the order that is expected to be released Thursday.

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The Circuit Court of Cook County will delay most pending civil and criminal cases until early July, while continuing to handle new cases and emergency hearings during the coronavirus pandemic.

A new general order, expected to be released Thursday, will extend the court’s modified schedule through July 6, according to Pat Milhizer, a spokesman for Chief Judge Timothy Evans.

Most day-to-day court operations ceased since Evans’ initial order went into effect March 17. The order, which was later extended to May 31, laid out emergency procedures during the pandemic.

An early draft of Thursday’s order obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times shows that Evans considered reopening the court over three phases with some in-person hearings by mid-June.

In the second phase, scheduled to start June 15, in-person hearings could be held at a judge’s discretion with no more than 10 people in a courtroom with six-feet social distancing requirements, according to the proposed draft.

The draft order anticipated a continued emphasis on videoconferencing hearings.

Milhizer declined Wednesday to comment on the draft. Milhizer, in a statement, said the chief judge “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 will ask judges toreview pending cases with attorneys to determine when their cases can be scheduled on or after July 6.

Since the initial order, judges have heard for than 111,000 criminal cases, Milhizer said. The number of civil case hearings was still being compiled.

The court currently has 50 licenses to hold unlimited meetings via an app, and is in contractual negotiations with Zoom to get 350 more, Milhizer said.

Seven courtrooms are broadcasting proceedings on YouTube.

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