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Illinois Courts response to COVID-19

Details | State of Illinois Office of the Illinois Courts

A look back on an incredible year for the Illinois Courts

12/21/2021

By Chief Justice Anne M. Burke

As 2021 comes to a close, it is the perfect time to take stock of what has been accomplished over the past 12 months. Despite high hopes that the newly-developed vaccines would provide an escape from the cloud that the pandemic has cast over our lives, COVID-19 and its variants continue to interrupt our daily activities. Yet, amazingly, we have been able to forge ahead, meet each new challenge as it presented itself, and ensure access to justice while maintaining the health and safety of everyone in the court system.

In 2021, the Illinois Supreme Court conducted three virtual statewide bar admission ceremonies, ushering in a total of 3,130 new attorneys to the state.

In January, the Illinois Supreme Court announced the creation of a new program to address the new challenges courts were facing in providing meaningful services and assistance to court patrons, lawyers, and the public in light of the pandemic. As a result, on May 17, 2021, Illinois Court Help was launched and a hotline number – 833-411-1121 – was put into service to connect people to the resources and information they would need to go to court in Illinois. It is the first personalized court information service offered by the Illinois Courts and one of the latest innovations created during the COVID-19 pandemic to make the courts and information more accessible.

In March, the Court issued new rules permitting remote hearings in adult criminal cases upon waiver by the defendant and, in April, a new Jury Orientation Video was produced, ensuring that all courts across the state would be uniformly providing information on fulfilling jury duty responsibilities.

In August, the Court unveiled plans for a new operational structure for pretrial services. All pretrial services were placed under the authority of the Supreme Court’s Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts (AOIC), which was tasked with the development and enforcement of all pretrial standards throughout Illinois. This operational structure was created to support the implementation of the Pretrial Services Act component of the Illinois Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today (SAFE-T) Act. This Act was signed into law on January 22, 2021 and takes effect on January 1, 2023. The Court also named Cara LeFevour Smith, as Director, and Wendy Venvertloh, as Deputy Director, of the Statewide Pretrial Services Program for adult criminal cases. In addition, the Court hired Scott Block to be the state’s first Statewide Behavioral Health Administrator. In this capacity, Scott will serve as the Illinois Judicial Branch’s dedicated mental health voice and resource, committed to furthering local, state, and national behavioral health and justice initiatives that affect the courts. In addition, he will act as the project director of the Illinois Supreme Court Mental Health Task Force and provide professional guidance on the Illinois Courts’ response to behavioral health issues that intersect with the justice system.

Finally, summing up 2021 would be incomplete without mention of the Judicial Districts Act of 2021, the historical legislation that dramatically alters the boundaries of the four judicial districts outside of Cook County. The redistricting legislation was set to take effect immediately upon being signed into law by Governor Pritzker on June 4, 2021. However, because of the many logistical challenges this legislation created for our court system, the Illinois Supreme Court entered an order on June 7, 2021, pausing the effective date until our courts were sufficiently prepared to comply with the legislation’s mandates. A task force was created to identify these challenges and to help form solutions.

I am happy to say that, because of the efforts of the task force members and other dedicated and committed persons, the Court was able to enter an order on December 8, 2021, lifting the pause order. The new judicial district boundaries will go into effect on January 1, 2022.

As you can see, it has been a busy, yet highly productive year. All that has been accomplished is due to the steadfast and devoted efforts of the many people who are members of the Illinois Supreme Court’s many Commissions, Committees, and special task forces, as well as the commitment and hard work of our Administrative Offices, especially Director Marcia Meis. The Court has also been fortunate to have the assistance of our Clerk of the Court, Carolyn Taft Grosboll, who took on the immense job of transitioning our Clerk’s Office from paper to the new digital era. Although Carolyn retired in November, we look forward to working with the new Clerk of the Court, Cynthia Grant, who worked with Carolyn as Assistant Clerk since 2013. We anticipate the switch to be seamless.

On behalf of my colleagues on the Supreme Court, I thank each of you for your many contributions to the Court’s endeavors, in service to the people of the State of Illinois. And, on a personal note, thank you to my chambers staff, for their tireless dedication and support during these challenging times.

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and may God bless you and keep you safe in 2022.