DuPage County courtrooms look different as in-person trials resume

In-person jury trials resume on March 1 at the DuPage County courthouse, and the pandemic has prompted multi-million dollar changes to the keep everyone safe, according to the circuit's chief judge and county officials.

Video Transcript

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STACY BACA: Starting March 1, in-person jury trials begin again at the DuPage County Courthouse. And COVID-19 is changing how courtrooms look. In courtroom [? 30-11, ?] juror seating is socially distant and same for the public.

KENNETH POPEJOY: Our number one concern in the 18th Judicial Circuit with this courthouse is the safety for everyone-- our litigants, our jurors, our general public that wants to come in and watch a trial.

STACY BACA: Potential jurors will follow signs on the floor, check in, and then spread out in the jury commission, which holds about 90 people. The chief judge is eager to get trials back on track.

KENNETH POPEJOY: This is truly one of the hallmarks of the United States judicial system is trial by your peers. No other place in the world has it like we do.

STACY BACA: Because of the pandemic, Chief Judge Popejoy says there's a backlog of about 100 trials. For DuPage County's board, it has been a race against time.

MARY OZOG: To construct something like this in four months time, to go from plan to contract to construction is just phenomenal.

STACY BACA: An HVAC system was put on the rooftop, improving the building's air. In the courtroom, you can see the air vents. Technology is also upgraded-- big screens, cameras for hybrid hearings. The county board used CARES Act federal funding.

JULIE RENEHAN: This project cost in the neighborhood of $13 million. We retrofitted four courtrooms, this being the largest. The jury deliberation room is also spread out, all this to make sure the wheels of justice start turning again.

KENNETH POPEJOY: Our litigants need this to get done. They need to have their day in court. And that day in court is important.

KENNETH POPEJOY: The courthouse has been open during the pandemic. It's the in-person jury trials that have been deeply impacted. And the chief judge is eager to have four trials happening at any given time.