Illinois Supreme Court Gives Circuit Courts Discretion in Resumption of Operations

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On May 20, 2020, the Illinois Supreme Court issued an Amended Order regarding Illinois Courts Response to COVID-19 here. Effective June 1, 2020, the Amended Order allows each circuit court to return to hearing court matters, whether in person or remotely, according to a schedule to be adopted by each county by the chief judge in each circuit.

The Court also issued Guidelines for Resuming Operations with suggestions for how Courts should operate moving forward here. In addition to the now-standard health and safety guidelines, the Supreme Court has included some additional suggestions. Of note:

Section IV: Rethinking Court Appearances

Particularly in larger jurisdictions, courts will need to continue to limit in-person matters until a plan can be implemented consistent with social distancing restrictions. The following are important options that courts should consider:

  1. Hearing most cases and proceedings remotely, if possible, with limited exceptions, such as jury trials.
  2. Requiring meaningful action at every court appearance, not just an opportunity for the parties to exchange documents or schedule matters.
  3. Holding matters such as status hearings, briefing schedules, uncontested matters, case management conferences, pre-trial conferences, motions and bond calls remotely unless otherwise ordered.
  4. Allowing all involved in a case to appear remotely….Carefully consider who needs to come to court and for what reason.

Considering altering traditional work processes, for example:

  1. Implement automatic briefing schedules.
  2. Consider ruling on fully briefed matters without oral argument. If oral argument is necessary, hold it remotely where possible.

All possible measures should be taken to avoid large “cattle calls” or move them to a facility that allows for appropriate social distancing. Some suggested practices include:

  1. Limiting the number of cases on each call and stagger the time (i.e. five cases at (9:00, 10:00, 11:00, 1:30, 2:30, 3:30, etc.))
  2. Holding court outside of normal business hours upon the agreement of all participants.
  3. Changing current schedules for more efficient assignment of cases.

In order to support the use of remote hearings in court proceedings, on May 22, 2020, the Illinois Supreme Court repealed Supreme Court Rule 185, created Rule 45, and amended Rules 46 and 241 here. 

According to the press release issued by the Court, "Repealed Supreme Court Rule 185 involved the use of telephone or video conferences in civil cases and was formerly contained in Article II – Rules on Civil Proceedings in the Trial Court. New Rule 45 recognizes that telephone and video conferences can be used effectively and appropriately in other types of proceedings beyond civil cases."

New Rule 45 states “the court may, upon request or on its own order, allow a case participant to participate in a civil or criminal matter remotely, including by telephone or video conference. Use of telephone or video conferences in criminal or juvenile delinquency matters shall be undertaken consistent with constitutional guarantees applicable to such proceedings.” This new Rule covers all non-testimonial court appearances and intentionally provides wider latitude for a court to conduct court proceedings remotely by allowing any case participant to request a remote appearance for any reason and by allowing a court to make that decision on its own even if no request has been made by a case participant.

Amended Rule 241 addresses civil testimony and states “The court may, upon request or on its own order, for good cause and upon appropriate safeguards, allow a case participant to testify or otherwise participate in a civil trial or evidentiary hearing by video conferencing from a remote location.”

The Comment to Amended Rule 241 reads: "Due to the relative importance of live testimony in court, a showing of good cause is required. Good cause is likely to arise when a witness is unable to attend trial for unexpected reasons, such as accident, illness, or limited court operations, but also in foreseeable circumstances such as residing out of state." Thus, while this Amended Rule 241 will apply as circuit courts conduct civil trials remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, it may also allow out-of-state witnesses to testify remotely once in-person trials are once again conducted.

These amended rules will clarify procedures for conducting hearings remotely, including the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit in Lake County, Illinois, which as of June 1, 2020, plans to conduct nearly all civil proceedings remotely via Zoom, including status hearings, Rule 218 conferences, motion presentments, bench trials, arbitration hearings, and pre-trial conferences. The Sixteenth Judicial Circuit in DuPage County, Illinois, began hearing some civil matters remotely on May 18, 2020.

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