Rebecca R. Pallmeyer
Rebecca R. Pallmeyer

Northern Illinois’ top federal trial judge announced Thursday evening that she is scaling back activity in the courts in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

In General Order 20-0012, Chief U.S. District Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer wrote the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in Chicago and the Stanley J. Roszkowski U.S. Courthouse in Rockford will remain open — but with several limitations designed to protect public health.

Large public gatherings, with the exception of court proceedings, are suspended at both courthouses beginning Saturday.

Large public gatherings include seminars, bar group meetings, moot courts, mock trials, naturalization ceremonies and group tours.

All civil jury trials and in-person settlement conferences scheduled to begin before April 3 are continued until further order. So are proceedings in the Second Chance Reentry Program, the Veterans Treatment Court and petty offense cases.

Judges have the option of conducting court proceedings by telephone or video conferencing.

Proceedings in criminal cases will go forward.

“The [c]ourt is cognizant of the right of criminal defendants to a speedy and public trial under the Sixth Amendment, and the particular application of that right in cases involving defendants who are detained pending trial,” the order says.

“Individual judges presiding over criminal proceedings may take such actions consistent with this order as may be lawful and appropriate to ensure the fairness of the proceedings and preserve the rights of the parties.”

Delays caused by any continuance entered through April 6 will be excluded under the Speedy Trial Act.

Magistrate judges will continue to issue search warrants and conduct initial appearances, arraignments and detention hearings.

Grand juries will also continue to meet.

Documents must be delivered to the clerk’s offices or to the drop boxes in the courthouses. Documents may not be delivered to chambers.

Probation and pretrial services and other court services will remain available.

Intake desks at both courthouses will remain open to accept filings. Also, electronic filings may still be made through the CM/ECF system.

Pallmeyer will vacate or amend the order by April 3.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is on recess until March 30.

A notice on the 7th Circuit’s website reminds lawyers that they may seek to appear before the court by video or speaker phone.

Lawyers interested in that option must contact the clerk’s office at least a week before they are scheduled to appear in court.