Cook County criminal courthouse working through case backlog

Chicago News

CHICAGO — The Cook County criminal courthouse never shutdown during the coronavirus pandemic, but there were significant restrictions that have led to a backlog of cases.

The 16 months created a backlog for judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys at 26th and California.

The pandemic closed down most of the building and moved most hearings online. Many trials were delayed and defendants waited for their time before the judge and jury.

Prosecutors are concerned about speedy trial clocks. There’s a law in Illinois that reinforces the Constitution’s right to a speedy trial and puts a time limit of 120 to 160 days to bring a case to trial. During the pandemic, the Illinois Supreme Court suspended that law but when it resumes on Oct. 1, that huge backlog could mean a big headache for prosecutors.

Some cases are being pleaded out or dismissed altogether.

Amy Thompson, from the Cook County Public Defender’s Office, said her staff’s caseload has gone from about 50 each pre-pandemic to more than 100 now.

“We’re just hoping that people get back,” Thompson said. “Back to the understanding of being in a room with somebody listening to the case, getting things done so that a lot of people can have their lives back.”

Chief Judge Tim Evans said 76 courtrooms are opening up Friday along with 10 more for bench trials. After being blamed by Supt. Brown for spikes of violent crime, Evans said it doesn’t come down to courts or policing, but investments in vastly-neglected communities.

“I think it’s really reflective of the fact that the mayor’s office and the superintendent are under enormous pressure,” Evans said. “(Residents) have not reached a point where they can live a decent life. The anger will be dissipated and the people who are short cutting and doing things of an illegal nature will stop.”

States Attorney Kim Foxx’s office said that they are concentrating on violent crime to get through the backlog.

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