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How the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the court system in Winnebago County

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ROCKFORD (WREX) — It's been busy inside the Winnebago County Courthouse.

"The last few months have been particularly stressful," says Winnebago County State's Attorney J. Hanley.

Hanley says his staff is working hard to keep up with cases delayed by the pandemic as well as their normal workflow.

"Our attorneys ,we had three trials today," says Hanley. "They are working to the bone."

Hanley says his office has worked to communicate constantly with victims and their families who are awaiting a trial date.

"That's unfair to victims. To wait a year for justice to be served. It's inappropriate and can revictimize them."

Hanley says a crime spiked across the country and in Winnebago County last year is just now making its way through the courts. This surge is adding to the extra work.

"If a violent crime happened last June, we're dealing with it now. So we almost have this COVID hangover, it's been its own challenge as well."

Winnebago County Chief Judge Eugene Doherty says jury trials didn't stop all together. To ensure proper social distancing among jury members during the trial and deliberations, two courtrooms changed their layout.

"Even as differently spaced as they might have looked our jury trials have kept rolling, and as a result we don't think we are facing something you'd even call a backlog for the most part," says Doherty.

Doherty says before COVID, the courthouse typically had six courtrooms for jury trials. However, that was usually staggered to only three jury trials a week. Which is why he says the drop from just three jury trials to two hopefully kept the county on a good pace.

Mary Sugden

Mary Sugden is the Investigative Reporter at WREX. She joined the team in December 2014 as the evening producer. In 2015 she made the move to evening reporter before joining the 13 Investigates team in May of 2018.

She grew up in Woodstock, Illinois and graduated from Woodstock High School in 2009. Mary graduated with a degree in Journalism and Marketing from Loyola University Chicago in 2013.

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