Court systems throughout the world are meeting the challenges resulting from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Downstate Illinois courts are no exception.

The Illinois Supreme Court, which exercises supervisory authority over all courts in Illinois, issued an order in March, mandating the state’s lower courts establish temporary procedures to minimize the negative impacts of the virus, but also to continue in providing citizens with access to justice.

The Fourth Judicial Circuit, which includes Christian, Clay, Clinton, Effingham, Fayette, Jasper, Marion, Montgomery and Shelby counties, is responding to the crisis with teamwork and the use of technology. Chief Judge Kim Koester has postponed jury trials and other court matters but the circuit continues to hear cases in which the accused is in custody, as well as criminal felony, juvenile detention and shelter care hearings, orders of protection hearings and any emergency matters.

Koester applauded the judges of her circuit for embracing new technology and keeping abreast of the wave of information needed to run the courts under these circumstances. “One of the most impactful things has been the effort by all judges to remain at work even from home, using all the technology available. This crisis has forced us to adopt new technology like videoconferencing, and that change will stay with us.”

Koester said communication has been the key to marshaling the court’s resources.

“We have had extraordinary cooperation from all departments across the circuit, and the offices of the clerk, the sheriff, the state’s attorney, and public defender have been outstanding,” she said. “Everyone has worked to protect the public and keep the courthouses operating. In Effingham County, we have seen our lawyers and clerks work selflessly to ensure people’s rights are preserved despite risk to themselves. Our pretrial services office in the probation department has really stepped up. They are in the jail every day interviewing clients to get the information the judge needs.”

Courts have dealt with emergencies before. When the Spanish flu struck in 1918, the United States Supreme Court curtailed its operations, meeting only to issue necessary orders and continue oral arguments until the crisis had eased.

“Despite the unprecedented disruption presented by the coronavirus, Illinois courts and judges have worked nimbly not only to minimize risk, but to keep the system running and ensure the rights of individuals remain upheld,” said Illinois Judges Association President Margaret Mullen. “Illinoisans should be proud.”

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