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Illinois courts face mountain of cases backed up by pandemic

gavel judge Illinois Republican JB Pritzker court cases

(The Center Square) – Courtrooms in Illinois are facing a mountain of cases as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

Many courthouses were closed because of the pandemic. Many are now handling a limited number of criminal cases. Felony cases usually get scheduled first, while misdemeanor cases continue to get postponed due to the lack of courtrooms.

Jennifer Goodreau, an Illinois public defender, said court cases have slowed to a crawl.

“Normally where there could be four trials going at a time or sometimes more, realistically if there is a backup judge available, we can only do two at this time,” Goodreau said.

Rock Island County officials are also reporting a huge backlog of cases. Most mornings hundreds of people go to the courthouse for misdemeanor and traffic court. Now, only 40 can show up because the courthouse is only allowing 10 cases an hour to allow for social distancing.

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DeKalb County State’s Attorney Rick Amato said officials have instituted a new program to deal with lesser crimes, such as traffic violations.

“We started a new call-in and email program for traffic citations, so even if it is a must appear, we can take care of their court appearance without them physically coming into the building,” he said.

Changes to procedures have slowed things down, such as a defendant’s right to a speedy trial.

Two Cook County lawyers want the nation’s top court to hear a challenge to the Illinois Supreme Court’s orders suspending the state’s speedy-trial rules during the pandemic. The attorneys claim the orders violate their client’s rights to due process and a speedy trial under Illinois law. The orders allowed Illinois judges to pause the time period codified in Illinois statute as a criminal defendants right to a speedy trial.

Amato said he is pleased with the way his office has handled cases since it reopened earlier this month but adds it is a work in progress.

Reporting by Kevin Bessler

The Center Square -- formerly known as Watchdog.org and the Illinois News Network -- and their reporters represent 18 states across the United States as the taxpayers' watchdog, exposing the way government really works.

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