PRESS RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Domestic Violence Committee makes recommendations for expanded service for domestic violence victims, Chief Judge Evans announces

Released On 07/29/2022

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.

Judge Evans reestablished the Domestic Violence Court committee last October, after it had been dormant for about a decade. Besides Judge 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.

The recommendations are intended to both help protect the safety of victims of domestic violence and the rights of those accused. The goal is to have services available to domestic violence victims 24/7, if warranted by the results of the pilot program. However, due to the shortage of judges which will not be alleviated until January of next year, and the current lack of data as to actual need, the Committee deemed that implementation of a pilot program was warranted. With 24/7 service still the anticipated ultimate goal, in order to begin implementation of the after-hours process on a pilot basis, the committee recommended providing expanded hours starting in September.

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 1p.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.

If petitioners want supportive advocacy services, including help with completing the court forms, they can work with an advocate through Connections for Abused Women and their Children. Petitions can be filed after hours, but will be heard during regular business hours now, and during both regular business hours and extended hours once the pilot is launched.

Petitioners may then participate in a video (Zoom) hearing before the judge on duty. The hearing will be recorded for later transcription by the Court Reporters Office. If an interpreter is required, the court will use a telephone-based service. Upon entry, the order will be transmitted immediately to LEADS, the Illinois Law Enforcement Agencies Data System.

Judge Evans thanked Judge Dickler, Judge Rice and all the other judges, attorneys, commissioners and advocates who helped create the recommendations to improve the Domestic Violence Court.

“The work of this committee and the implementation of its recommendations will ensure that the Circuit Court of Cook County is providing a safe and secure environment for the hearing of domestic violence matters, helping to both protect the safety of victims and the rights of the accused,” Judge Evans said.

Judge Dickler said she looks forward to overseeing the implementation of the committee’s recommendations, under Judge Evans’ leadership.

“Chief Judge Evans' unrelenting concern for victims of domestic violence and ongoing commitment to enhancing the domestic violence court propelled the committee in forming holistic recommendations addressing numerous aspects of the system,” said Judge Dickler. “These recommendations couldn't have materialized without the dedication and tireless work of the committee members and their 
staff, who brought energy and vision to each discussion. I would be remiss not to highlight Judge Judith Rice, who jumped in midstream as the new Acting Presiding Judge of the Domestic Violence Division with unbounded enthusiasm and initiative.”

Judge Rice called it an “honor and a privilege” to be entrusted with overseeing this division.

“I’d like to express my gratitude to Chief Judge Evans for his commitment to serving victims of domestic violence, and to Presiding Judge Dickler for her unwavering support, guidance and leadership of the committee,” Judge Rice said. “I’d also like to gratefully acknowledge the committee members' deep dedication and invaluable expertise in identifying new and innovative ways to comprehensively serve victims of domestic violence in Cook County.”

Amanda Pyron, executive director of The Network: Advocating Against Domestic Violence, said her organization was “proud” to partner with the Chief Judge and the Domestic Violence Committee. “The work of the Domestic Violence Committee will ensure that survivors seeking protection from the Court will have expanded access to justice, increased advocate support for those most at risk, and a renewed focus on judicial education and training,” Pyron said.

“With a 55% increase in civil orders of protection served from 2020 to 2021, it is apparent that survivors rely on the civil legal process for protection from abuse,” Pyron said. “The Network is looking forward to the launch of 24/7 access to civil orders of protection for survivors, which will ensure that survivors have access to services when it is safest to seek help.”

Pyron also thanked Judge Dickler for her leadership and Judge Rice for her “steady, thoughtful transition” into the Domestic Violence Division. “Their collaboration through implementation of these recommendations will be critical to safeguarding survivors,” Pyron said.

The following provides more detail on the recommendations of the committee:

Court Organization

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.

Communication

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

Technology

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.

Litigant Services

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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