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Illinois Courts response to COVID-19

Details | State of Illinois Office of the Illinois Courts

An Update from Chief Justice Burke and Guest Column from Judge Daniel Shanes

8/21/2020

August 21, 2020

It has now been five months since our nation and this state were besieged by the coronavirus pandemic. Initially, the health dangers posed by this unseen invader required drastic responses. For most of us, normal daily activity ground to a halt. From the safety of our homes, we watched and waited for this crisis to pass. But the crisis has not passed and, realizing that life as we knew it would not be returning quickly, we set about creating a new normal for ourselves and those for whom we were responsible.


So, too, for our court system. But if there is a silver lining to this pandemic for the judicial branch it may be that there has been greater interaction and collaboration among the courts throughout the state and all our stakeholders. Here are just a few examples of what has occurred over the past few months:

  • On March 13, the Supreme Court began holding regular COVID-19 court leadership calls with judges and key staff in the Supreme, Appellate and Circuit Courts throughout the state. The first calls were via teleconference and then transitioned to Zoom starting in mid-April. During these calls, the judges and staff have shared their experiences about what has worked and what hasn’t throughout the judicial branch, including such things as holding remote bond hearings via Zoom, and holding court calls in local school auditoriums and VFW halls. There have been more than 25 of these statewide meetings to date.
  • Since April 1st, the Supreme Court has led a statewide task force of Juvenile Court Judges and the leadership of the Administrative Office’s Courts, Children and Families Division on regular calls to discuss best practices for juvenile issues during the pandemic. This task force has attended nine such meetings so far. 
  • In June, the Supreme Court approved the creation of the Illinois Judicial Conference Court Operations During COVID-19 Task Force. The three areas of initial focus included: Logistics of maintaining safety for court personnel, litigants, juries, and the public; use of remote proceedings in criminal cases consistent with due process; and remote jury selection in civil cases.

In addition, on August 20, the opening session of the ISBA-sponsored Listening Tour was held, albeit in a new “virtual” format. The session was hosted by Madison County and the Chief Judge of the Third Judicial Circuit, William Mudge. Also contributing was Chief Judge Andrew Gleeson, of the 20th Judicial Circuit. The chief judges provided insight on the impact that COVID-19 has had on their circuits and the responses they have made to challenges instigated by the pandemic.


I have one final note. On behalf of my colleagues on the Supreme Court, I want to recognize and congratulate Marcia Meis, the Director of the Administrative Office of Illinois Courts, who was recently awarded the Richard J. Phelan Public Service Award by the Chicago Bar Association and the Chicago Bar Foundation. The Richard J. Phelan Public Service Award honors attorneys who have dedicated a significant portion of their legal career to the public sector, achieved excellence in their work, and demonstrated a firm commitment to increasing access to justice for all Chicagoans. We are so very proud of you, Marcia. Congratulations!


Now, I would like to introduce Judge Daniel B. Shanes. Judge Shanes is the Presiding Judge of the Felony Division in the 19th Judicial Circuit Court and in February 2020, the Illinois Supreme Court appointed him to Chair of the Illinois Judicial College Board of Trustees. I know he has some interesting perspectives to share with you.


The Illinois Judicial College, 2020 edition
By Judge Daniel Shanes


February 2020: Great Education Conference! Four hundred plus judges getting out of the trenches, recharging their batteries, maybe even learning a few things—either in a classroom or in a watering hole—and joined the last couple days by justice partners. Raising the bar for the entire Judicial Branch. Can’t wait to do it again in the spring.
March 2020: You want to have a conference for how many people?!?!? Don’t get within 6 feet of me!


Welcome to the Illinois Judicial College, 2020 edition.
Our Supreme Court established the Illinois Judicial College in 2016 to provide robust professional development and education for judges and all members of the Judicial Branch. This year brought two significant changes to our training and education; one we planned for, the other thrust upon us. Both are significant.

  • First, the obvious: virtual meetings, conferences, and education as a result of the pandemic.

Although the pandemic accelerated virtual learning, e-learning within the Judicial College was in the early stages of development prior to COVID-19. The College was exploring how to best implement online learning opportunities as a supplement to in-person conferences in order to facilitate additional learning opportunities.


Think of the benefits. Rather than wait for the annual New Judge Seminar, by taking advantage of live and recorded webinars, a new judge will have the opportunity to learn about contempt upon taking the bench, often months before the in-person seminar. When a new clerk or probation officer is hired, immediate high-quality training will be available. The advantages for all justice partners are obvious.


With the Supreme Court’s leadership, the Judicial College seized those opportunities and provided dozens of online courses with more being added all the time. For all members of the Judicial Branch—including those judges scheduled to attend the April Education Conference—the College is now providing a wide variety of educational and professional development opportunities. Please check out the ever-growing course calendar under the Judicial College tab on the Supreme Court’s website (www.Illinoiscourts.gov).


While the College is excited about the benefits of e-learning, we remain true to our mission to provide robust in-person training and education, and have begun the process of planning for several in-person conferences and seminars, including New Judge Seminar in April 2021 and Ed Con 2022. Stay tuned for more information.

  • The second big change was introduced at the February session of Ed Con.

While three days of the conference focused solely on judicial education, the final two days we enjoyed the opportunity to share experiences and perspectives with other justice partners. Over 400 judges were joined by circuit clerks, probation officers, trial court administrators, guardians ad litem, and a variety of other judicial branch staff. Several courses were collaboratively taught by different justice partners, and many courses were offered to multiple justice partners together. Feedback from participants was both positive and insightful in improving future collaborative education.


As members of the Judicial Branch, we do not produce widgets, gadgets, or gizmos. Our product is justice, delivering a unique and special service to the public. Each of us—judges, clerks, probation, GALs, trial court administrators, and other judicial branch staff—plays a vital role in delivering that justice. Our “customers” deal with several justice partners in their journey through the court system, and whether the “customers” leave believing they “got justice” depends on more than just the clerk, judge, or other faces of the judiciary.


While some education and training are obviously only relevant to probation officers, clerks, judges, and so forth, our responsibilities require us to work together, and we all can learn from or teach something to our partners in delivering justice. 


The mission of the Judicial Branch is “to protect the rights and liberties of all by providing equal access to justice, resolving disputes, and upholding the rule of law pursuant to the powers and duties entrusted to us by the Illinois Constitution.” Our duty is to breathe life into those lofty words every day.