CHICAGO (July 29, 2022) The Circuit Court of Cook County Committee on Domestic Violence Court has developed a plan to improve court access to help domestic violence victims, which will include an after-hours pilot program to start this September, according to Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans.
The committee, chaired by Domestic Relations Division Presiding Judge Grace G. Dickler, made recommendations for after-hours procedures for handling emergency orders of protection and civil no-contact orders. The committee also outlined plans to improve technology and expand staff to provide increased access to the court, including adding six more judges to the Domestic Violence Division. The changes also will require more clerks, legal advocates, and Cook County Sheriff's Office time, according to a report by the committee.
Evans reestablished the committee last October after it had been dormant for about a decade. Besides Dickler, the committee includes Domestic Violence Division Acting Presiding Judge Judith C. Rice, who is coordinating implementation of the recommended changes. Also on the committee are other judges in the Domestic Relations, Domestic Violence and Child Protection Divisions; advocates for domestic violence victims; and representatives of the private bar, the Cook County Sheriff, the Clerk of the Circuit Court, and the Cook County Board.
Regular business hours for the court are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. both in person and remotely (Zoom). During the pilot program, petitions for emergency orders of protection will be heard both during regular business hours and, remotely, on Monday through Friday, from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m., and Saturdays and Sundays, from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Under the pilot program, petitioners seeking Emergency Orders of Protection will complete online forms developed in partnership with Illinois Legal Aid Online (ILAO). After-hour access will be available through filing a petition at a dedicated email address. Information will be posted on the ILAO launch page, advising petitioners requesting these orders outside of those stated hours to apply by going to the courthouse during regular business hours or by accessing the after-hours email address for remote (Zoom) hearings during the established hours.
The following provides more detail on the recommendations of the committee:
To alleviate the impact of increased volume of domestic violence cases, the committee recommends adding up to two additional civil courtrooms and an entirely remote emergency call. The committee also wants to transfer non-domestic stalking no contact cases (SNCOs) to the Municipal Division, which will free up civil courtroom calls, and initiate mediation where appropriate for these types of cases.
To accommodate litigant needs, the committee also recommends:
extending regular court hours in one to two courtrooms two days per week
establishing procedures for Domestic Relations Division cases to be heard remotely at the 555 W. Harrison St. courthouse
establishing a mental health diversion call to handle cases where mental health service referrals and monitoring are appropriate.
The committee recommends an overhaul for the Circuit Court website to facilitate improved communication with litigants and stakeholders. This would include posting routine data reports of key Domestic Violence case statistics. The committee recommends creation of a listserv for stakeholder updates on changes in procedures and regular stakeholder meetings to facilitate information sharing and problem solving of ongoing operational issues
The committee recommends funding a buildout of ILAO's guided interview platform for integration with the Clerk's Odyssey system for seamless remote filing of petitions.
The committee recommends:
hiring personnel to assist litigants in navigating courthouse procedures
increasing access to child-related remedies including creation of an additional Child Relief Expediter, a mediator who handles cases with child custody and support issues
the Division make an ongoing commitment to same day civil services and reduce turnaround times for suburban and criminal cases.
The committee also recommends the use of advocate partnerships, both for after-hours assistance and for daytime assistance for disabled and elderly petitioners.
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