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Illinois Courts response to COVID-19

Details | State of Illinois Office of the Illinois Courts

Supreme Court Boards, Commissions and Committees Step Up in Time of Need

1/27/2021

Supreme Court Boards, Commissions and Committees
Step Up in Time of Need

By: Marcia M. Meis, Director, Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts


January 27, 2021

The Illinois Constitution provides that "[g]eneral administrative and supervisory authority over all courts is vested in the Supreme Court ***." To assist with this constitutional directive, the Supreme Court has appointed Boards, Commissions and Committees to serve as arms of the Court. Some of these entities are longstanding and traditional for any state court system, such as the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission and the Board of Admissions to the Bar. Others have been created more recently to address emerging issues in the justice system. These entities are comprised of judges, attorneys and other justice stakeholders. They serve without compensation – on their own time and on top of their "day jobs" in the justice system – and provide experience and expertise on a full range of justice issues.

The past year has been challenging, to say the least, for all of us. In response to the many difficulties wrought by the pandemic, the Illinois courts have adapted and overcome these challenges. The members of the Supreme Court Boards, Commissions and Committees have contributed greatly to this effort and should be applauded for their willingness to answer the call for justice on top of their day-to-day responsibilities.

The various accomplishments of the Boards, Commissions and Committees this past year are too numerous to detail here, but I take this opportunity to recognize and commend these dedicated Court appointees for doing outstanding work for the Illinois Judicial Branch. In particular, the following focuses on two Task Forces - formed under the Illinois Judicial Conference and the Supreme Court Commission on Pretrial Practices, respectively – that have completed time-sensitive and critical work in support of the Illinois Judicial Branch during this very difficult time.

Illinois Judicial Conference - Court Operations During COVID-19 Task Force

As we sheltered in place and the continuing impact of the pandemic became apparent last Spring, the Court saw it was necessary to quickly appoint individuals tasked with addressing the constant flow of novel issues faced by our courts. The Court created the Court Operations During COVID-19 Task Force, under the auspices of the Illinois Judicial Conference, to research and recommend needed changes to court operations during this public health crisis. These individuals, led by Chair Timothy Eaton and Vice-Chair Hon. Eugene Doherty, immediately hit the ground running to tackle diverse challenges presented by the pandemic and act as an emergency sounding board and rapid response team. Working in consultation with experts in public health, criminal law, and civil jury trials, the COVID-19 Task Force has deftly aided the Court in addressing the pressing public health and safety concerns while maintaining access to justice.

To name a few, the COVID-19 Task Force has made recommendations in support of Court actions to revise and update courthouse admittance policies; provide guidance when responding to a COVID-19 exposure; permit and support remote jury selection in civil matters; facilitate remote proceedings in cases involving survivors of domestic violence; reduce unnecessary in-person court appearances for litigants seeking fee waivers; temporarily replace the date certain summons with the 30-day summons in certain civil cases; and clarify procedures for evictions that comply with state and federal moratoria. It has also studied and made recommendations on a proposed temporary order governing electronic and digital signatures and instances when criminal proceedings may be heard remotely.

Currently, a subcommittee of the COVID-19 Task Force is collaborating with a diverse stakeholder group, including representatives from the Illinois Department of Human Services and the Illinois Housing Development Authority, to identify best practices for meeting the impending eviction crisis head-on.

In this way, the COVID-19 Task Force has allowed Illinois to be responsive to the ongoing pandemic in a thoughtful and innovative manner. Their work is to be commended and is greatly appreciated.

Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Pretrial Practices Implementation Task Force

The Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Pretrial Practices was formed in 2017 and charged with providing guidance and recommendations regarding statewide pretrial reform in the Illinois criminal justice system. The Commission issued its Final Report in April 2020 which contained a broad range of legislative and policy recommendations.

Last summer, the Court established a Task Force to implement the Final Report's recommendations. The Implementation Task Force, like the Commission, is bipartisan and multidisciplinary and has met bi-weekly since its creation. In addition, subcommittees formed within the Task Force met several times a month focusing on data, legislation, education, pretrial risk assessment and operational structures of pretrial services in Illinois.

Most recently, members of the Task Force provided education and feedback to legislators regarding the pretrial components of proposed criminal justice reform legislation (HB3653) in an effort to align the pretrial portions of the bill with the recommendations in the Commission's Final Report. As a result, many of the Final Report's recommendations on the necessary components of an effective statewide pretrial system are contained in HB 3653. Importantly, the Task Force's discussions also resulted in a delayed effective date on many of the bill's key provisions. This additional time is critical to address any necessary amendatory language and provide education and training to judges and pretrial stakeholders.

Going forward, the Supreme Court has directed the Pretrial Task Force to assume a leadership role regarding implementation of the pretrial provisions of this legislation. Under the guidance of Judge Robbin Stuckert who serves as Chair of the Task Force and the Commission, the Task Force is closely studying this bill and its impact on pretrial in Illinois.

These are just two examples of the outstanding work being completed in support of the Illinois Judicial Branch. On behalf of the Supreme Court, I thank all Board, Commission and Committee members for their dedication to the court system and support of the Court's mission 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.