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Civil Court Cases In Cook County Come To A Dead Halt; 'There's A Sense Of Panic'

CHICAGO (CBS) --The COVID-19 pandemic has brought almost all Cook County court cases to a dead stop for months, although many are set to resume again next week.

However, hundreds of civil cases aren't scheduled for a court date for almost a year, and some attorneys say that is totally unacceptable. They say that it could have been avoided.

"I wouldn't say slow motion; I would say no motion," personal injury attorney Mark Horwitz said of his clients' cases.

That, he says, is a problem.

"There's a sense of panic because every case is someone who has been injured who is waiting for their case to get to trial," Horwitz told CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov.

Horwitz and dozens of other attorneys whose cases are filed primarily in the Cook County Court's Law and Municipal divisions got notices this past week that their next hearing dates are in February, March, and even April of 2021.

What will this do to the case backlog?

"It's just going to stuff it up again," said Horwitz.

Horwitz says it impacts more than 100 of his cases alone. He blames the lack of Wi-Fi within the Daley Center and video conferencing incapabilities in the system.  These are problems that still exist almost four months into a pandemic that forced much of the world to up its technological game. He faults Cook County Chief Judge Tim Evans and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle for not doing more.

"He [Evans] needs to get his budget from the president of the Cook County Board," said Horwitz. "Where is she? Why hasn't she alotted money to get this building up to technological code like other courthouses have?"

The delayed hearing notices came despite an announcement from Evans last week that many court proceedings would resume after July 6. But Horwitz says there are cumbersome caveats in the judge's order, making many hearings unlikely. It means some Cook County judges, who make an average of $187,000 a year, are doing little work.

Horwitz claims the big winners are the insurance companies.

"They are coming up with horrific offers and taking advantage of people who are being affected by COVID, who have lost their jobs and who can't work," he said.

Kozlov spent the last two days reaching out to Chief Judge Evans' office and County Board President Preckwinkle's office.

As to other counties, Horwitz said some are doing a better job at keeping civil cases moving along.

He pointed to Kane and Lake counties as good examples, meaning their technology allows hearings to proceed in a reasonable amount of time.

Kozlov reached out to the clerks of both counties to ask what specifically, they have done to keep cases moving along, but had not heard back as of Tuesday evening.

In a statement to CBS 2, however, Cook County Judge Kathy Flanagan, who presides over the Law Division of the Cook County civil court system, acknowledged the pandemic has had a major impact on court operations, but said "I cannot sit by and let the tremendous work of the Motion
Section, during this time, go unheralded or the reputation of the judges and their law clerks, be unfairly and falsely criticized, in any fashion."

"In nearly 32 years as a Cook County Circuit Court judge, I have never seen a group of judges work harder, longer, with more dedication to their jobs, working under the same conditions as the attorneys, out of their offices, home with at-home children, etc. It has been a wonder to observe and a privilege to work with them," she wrote.

Read Flanagan's full letter here:

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