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Some courts to begin hearing more cases as COVID-19 restrictions lift
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Some courts to begin hearing more cases as COVID-19 restrictions lift

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The Franklin County Courthouse is pictured on Feb. 10, 2018.

CARBONDALE — As COVID-19 restrictions are eased for Illinois businesses, courts in the state will resume some normal functions this week.

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An administrative order from Chief Judge of the Second Circuit Thomas Tedeschi said beginning Monday, courts in his circuit would again begin holding non-emergency hearings. On March 17, the Illinois Supreme Court allowed state trial courts to hear only essential matters. Tedeschi’s news release said the court recently ordered that circuit judges could again resume all court operations.

In the announcement, Tedeschi said it is important that “the health and safety of the court users and general public are adequately protected.” He added that this means court personnel and visitors are to follow CDC guidelines as well as those from local health departments and the Illinois Supreme Court when doing business at a courthouse. Tedeschi also encouraged the use of remote technologies to conduct some court business.

While the court is allowed to resume normal operations, this doesn't mean business as usual, Tedeschi said in the release. This means potential limits on the number of people allowed in the courtrooms, staggered court settings and the use of video and teleconferencing for some court matters.

Similar provisions are in place in the First Circuit. An administrative order signed May 21 by Chief Judge James R. Williamson said that, beginning Monday, circuit judges were to begin “hearing court matters whether in person or remotely.” The order said schedules would be set by each county court. The order also said judges should do their best to facilitate social distancing and to find ways to reduce the number of persons entering the courthouse.

The order said that the presiding judge can also allow for a case to be continued should social distancing guidelines inhibit the proceedings.

The First Judicial Circuit is composed of Alexander, Jackson, Johnson, Massac, Pope, Pulaski, Saline, Union and Williamson counties. The Second Circuit is Crawford, Edwards, Franklin, Gallatin, Hamiton, Hardin, Jefferson, Lawrence, Richland, Wabash, Wayne, and White counties.

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A news release from the Southern District said Chief Judge Nancy Rosenstengel signed an executive order Friday that detailed a phased reopening of the two courthouses in Benton and East St. Louis.

Like the two state circuit courts, part of the plan is to use video and teleconferencing. It also said that through July 5, the courthouses in Benton and East St. Louis will be closed save for special settings. During the time the courthouses are closed, filings can be made via the court’s electronic filing system or, for those without access, via mail. Emergency filings can be made by email to EmergencyFiling@ilsd.uscourts.gov.

The order says hearings for most preliminary matters — things like detention hearings, initial appearances and preliminary hearings — can be held using remote communication. However, if a judge finds that delaying felony pleas or sentencing cannot be pushed back without harm to the defendant, video and teleconferencing can be used to hold these hearings.

While video or teleconferencing was approved as an emergency measure in the COVID Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, the administrative order said defendants need to provide consent for these. If consent is not given, the order says in-person settings may be scheduled using social distancing. The order said this could potentially limit the number of spectators allowed in.

The order also said anyone entering the courthouses should have on a mask and anyone who has been exposed to COVID-19 or who exhibits symptoms should not enter.

The order also says that all civil and criminal trials will not be held until after Aug. 1.

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isaac.smith@thesouthern.com

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On Twitter: @ismithreports

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