Rebecca R. Pallmeyer
Rebecca R. Pallmeyer

Under the latest order from Chief Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer, Chicago’s federal trial court can reopen its clerk’s offices, but remote hearings will continue through at least September.

Fifth Amended General Order 20-0012, issued Friday, is the latest tweak to operations in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois since COVID-19 cases started spreading widely in mid-March. It replaces the fourth amended order issued by Pallmeyer on May 26.

In civil cases, the order allows “hearings, bench trials and settlement conferences” to be scheduled and held remotely. “In-court hearings are limited to urgent matters that cannot be conducted remotely,” the order reads.

Like the April order, Friday’s directive does not extend deadlines in civil cases, and civil jury trials can’t start any sooner than Aug. 3.

In many types of criminal proceedings, Pallmeyer approved the use of videoconferencing or teleconferencing to hold hearings through Sept. 14.

The clerk’s offices inside the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in Chicago and at the Roszkowski U.S. Courthouse in Rockford have reopened at their normal business hours. Filings can be electronically filed, placed in courthouse dropboxes, mailed to the offices or handed over the counter in-person.

Through at least Sept. 14, Pallmeyer suspended Local Rule 5.2(f), which requires delivery of paper courtesy copies to judges.

Also through Sept. 14, the court will accept filings emailed by self-represented litigants, as long as they follow specific procedures.

The order also prohibits public gatherings at the Chicago and Rockford federal courthouses through Sept. 14. “This includes, but is not limited to, group tours and visits, moot courts and mock trials, bar group meetings, and seminars,” Pallmeyer wrote.

In one change since the May 26 order, in-court proceedings for Second Chance reentry court, SOAR Court, Veterans Treatment court and naturalization ceremonies can happen once again “conducted consistently with social-distancing guidelines.”

Pallmeyer wrote that she will vacate, amend or extend her general order by Sept. 14.

Later on Friday, the district court announced that a defendant in a Thursday hearing on the 21st floor of the Dirksen Federal Courthouse later tested positive for COVID-19.

The statement says others at that hearing have been contacted and that the government will hire a contractor to clean the courtroom “and associated areas” of the courthouse.

Pallmeyer said the case is not a cause for alarm.

“Although COVID-19 spreads easily between people and can live on surfaces, the CDC advises that touching a surface or object that has the virus on it is not the main way the infection spreads,” she wrote. “You should of course continue to monitor yourself for any symptoms associated with COVID-19, and you should contact your healthcare provider with any questions about symptoms or specific questions about your health.”