The Illinois Supreme recently entered an Order allowing for immediate remote jury selection in an attempt to alleviate the COVID-19 pandemic’s enormous impact on the court system. See In re: Illinois Courts Response to COVID-19 Emergency/Remote Jury Section in Civil Cases, M.R. 30370. Courts may allow voir dire to proceed remotely before a trial gets underway.
Remote Jury Selection may commence immediately in Illinois civil trials pursuant to the Illinois Supreme Court’s October 27, 2020 Order. See In re: Illinois Courts Response to COVID-19 Emergency/Remote Jury Section in Civil Cases, M.R. 30370. The Court considers remote jury selection a permissible modification to court procedures and local rules allowing litigants to access justice in a timely fashion; therefore, preserving the constitutional rights of involved parties, all in a manner designed to continue to keep jurors, court personnel and litigants safe by enforcing social distancing and compliance with public health protocols to minimize the risk of COVID-19 exposure.
The Order allows circuit courts the choice to utilize remote jury selection so long as they follow the guidelines established by the Court’s Task Force on Court Operations During COVID-19 Remote Jury Selection Guidelines published at the same time. The Court mandated all parties must consent to remote jury selection, “unless the judge finds, after weighing the factors of public safety and the parties’ rights to access to justice, that the case presents a compelling circumstance to proceed with remote jury selection absent parties’ consent.” Further, the circuit courts may apply to the Court for permission to undertake a pilot project ordering remote jury selection without consent of all parties. Although the Court’s Task Force acknowledged that most of the Illinois attorneys surveyed were not in favor of Remote Jury Selection due to the inability to assess a prospective juror’s body language or nonverbal affect the Court felt it was a necessary change to cut down on the unnecessary number of prospective jurors at the courthouse. The Court’s Order does not extend to requiring a civil trial to proceed remotely once the jury has been selected; rather, the Task Force’s guidelines suggest jurors may be required to appear in-person once the jury is impaneled.
The Court here only specifically addressed permitting remote jury selection in order to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure without explicitly allowing any other portion of a civil trial to occur remotely; however, the Remote Jury Selection Guidelines and other emergency orders issued regarding the COVID-19 pandemic suggest the Court’s willingness to allow remote civil jury trials. Illinois is not alone in making changes to court procedures due to the COVID-19 pandemic and some states are allowing not only remote jury selection, but remote jury trials. Polsinelli attorneys continue to monitor developments in Illinois and other jurisdictions towards eventual remote civil jury trials and stand ready to advise clients on the applicable strategic considerations that they might face.