March 23, 2020
Dear Justice Corner,
What should we be doing in light of the COVID-19 pandemic when it comes to continuances, remote appearance options, and interpreters?
Dear Judge CoronaImpact,
The foremost concern of the Judicial Branch is the health and safety of our staff and patrons. As a court community, we want to make sure that litigants are following the proper precautions for themselves and the community. As such, if litigants are requesting continuances or not appearing in court during this time, consider the following:
- Make sure the plans for your courthouse are made easily available to the public and justice partners. Although all court plans are being posted on the Illinois Courts website and local court websites, please consider also utilizing social media, local news (TV and newspapers), mailings, and posting signs outside the courthouse.
- If you are at a court that has closed or plans to reschedule many cases, make sure you have a communication plan to tell litigants about it so that they aren’t making unnecessary trips to courthouses and potentially exposing themselves and others. In addition to the strategies listed above, consider calling litigants with cases scheduled during the closure or limited service time period.
- If you are not closing or rescheduling cases, be lenient if litigants are not in court. Consider not issuing any dismissals for want of prosecution or default judgments during this period. Instead, continue cases for at least a month from now.
- Have a plan for how to deal with litigants calling circuit clerks or the court about court dates (inquiring if still going on or asking to change dates), but don’t make such changes only for those who have called. Grant continuances liberally.
- Also, offer remote appearances by telephone or video conferencing so that cases may move forward, but case participants are not risking exposure. Supreme Court Rules 185 and 241 allow for remote appearances in civil matters and 725 ILCS 5/106D-1 allow for video appearances for civil or criminal matters, for certain types of court dates, when the litigant is incarcerated.
- Many conferencing services are free, but some cost money (like CourtCall). No litigant should be forced to pay a fee to appear remotely during this time, but they can choose to do so. Some free resources include freeconferencecall.com, freeconferencecalling.com, uberconference.com, or freeconference.com. Some vendors offer free versions of conference call or videoconferencing systems like Google Hangouts, Zoom, GoToMeeting, and Skype.
- Cases with interpreters
- Courts are encouraged to utilize interpreters remotely over phone or video.
- Interpreters providing services in person should be given simultaneous interpreting equipment, if available in the courthouse, to maintain distance between interpreters and litigants. Equipment should be disinfected before and after use. If equipment is not available in your courthouse, contact Sophia Akbar at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- If simultaneous interpreting equipment is not available, courts should allow interpreters to use the consecutive mode of interpretation so that interpreters and litigants can maintain distance between one another. The simultaneous mode of interpretation requires parties to be physically proximate, which is currently not advised.
- When possible, courts should hear interpreter cases first so that interpreters can provide services in other courtrooms and areas of the courthouse.
- Extended one-on-one services in circuit clerk’s offices, law libraries, and self-help centers, like assisting with e-filing or filling out forms, should be minimized. For e-filing, consider liberal use of the e-filing exemption option. For other one-on-one assistance, consider phone or email assistance.
The Access to Justice Division of the AOIC is ready to assist your court in any way it can to ensure litigants maintain access to justice during this time. Reach out to Jill Roberts at email@example.com to discuss any of the topics mentioned here. As always if you have questions, comments, concerns, suggestions, or stories about self-represented litigants, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
-Justice Corner, Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice's Court Guidance and Training Committee
- Chair, Judge Jo Beth Weber, Jefferson County
- Presiding Judge Clarence M. Darrow, Rock Island County
- Presiding Judge Sharon M. Sullivan, Cook County
- Associate Judge Elizabeth M. Rochford, Lake County
- Chief Judge Michael Kramer, Kankakee County
- Justice Michael Hyman, 1st Appellate District
- David Holtermann, Lawyers' Trust Fund, Chicago
- Wendy Vaughn, Clinical Professor NIU, Member of Access to Justice Commission