April 2021Volume 109Number 4Page 8

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President's Page

Listening and Learning

Traveling the state to hear from you.

Dennis J. Orsey

One of the bright spots during my year as “the ISBA Zoom President” was being asked by Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Anne Burke to serve as the moderator of the Illinois Supreme Court Access to Justice Listening Tour. Originally conceived as live forums held throughout Illinois, these events became virtual ones with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. I was particularly pleased when Chief Justice Burke selected my home county of Madison to serve as the first stop on the Listening Tour. Beginning last August, guests were invited to these forums by the Illinois Supreme Court. We heard from judges, state’s attorneys, public defenders, members of law enforcement, court personnel, and practicing attorneys who shared their experiences and suggestions on how they were continuing to keep the wheels of justice turning during the pandemic.

After beginning the Listening Tour in Madison County on Aug. 20, 2020, we conducted similar events in Whiteside, Adams, and Winnebago counties. We closed out round one of the Listening Tour with two sessions in Cook County (one dealing with civil issues and another dealing with criminal issues). In addition to chief judges from each of the home county circuits, Illinois Supreme Court justices participated in each of these events.

Round two of the Listening Tour continued this February with events in Kankakee and Lake counties. We have two more session scheduled for the central and southern Illinois counties of Vermillion on April 7, 2021, and Jefferson on April 22, 2021, respectively. If you have an interest in being invited, please let us know. Attendance is by invitation only from the Supreme Court. All Listening Tour events are recorded and are available for viewing.

Lessons learned

  • The Zoom platform has been adopted throughout the state for court calls and most administrative hearings and government meetings. The Illinois Open Meetings Act has been amended during the pandemic to allow for public meetings to take place on virtual platforms as long as: an agenda has been posted indicating how members of the public and press can join the meeting virtually; the meeting is recorded and retained; and all votes are made by roll call with members identifying themselves by name.
  • Virtual-platform participants no longer have to incur the time and expense associated with traveling to or from courtrooms or other public buildings. Lawyers and litigants can now participate in a variety of docket calls from their home or office and engage in other work while waiting to be called into courtrooms. This should result in cost savings to attorneys who can pass the savings on to their clients.
  • Practical suggestions made at the Listening Tours have resulted in Supreme Court Rule changes, including an amendment to Supreme Court Rule 415, which changed how defense attorneys can share discovery documents with their criminal defendants.
  • Courtrooms around the state have benefited from additional funding from the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts, which has provided technology and other assistance through various grants. In particular, rural parts of the state have benefited immensely.
  • A recent study suggests that the time lawyers are saving from traveling to and from court is now being spent on other work! Some may view this as a plus; others may say it simply adds more stress to an already-stressful situation.
  • Illinois saw its first all-virtual, two-day jury trial, which took place in Lake County in late February. While a simple auto-accident case with many stipulations by the parties, this proved it is possible to accomplish this task remotely! (See the LawPulse article concerning this case on page 12 of this issue.)
  • Many courts are returning to live jury trials this April. Some rural counties have continued with jury trials on a limited basis since last fall. Jurors, for the most part, are willing to serve as long as they feel appropriate protocols are in place for their safety.

While ISBA’s participation in the Listening Tour serves as a primary example of how we have been able to learn from our members around the state, we also continue to rely on your feedback to improve member services during these unique times. As COVID-19 vaccines continue to be administered throughout the country, we look forward to when we can all gather together in person again.

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