Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Announcements
SPECIAL NOTE: The Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) has presented a unique challenge to the local courts and legal community. The Law Firm of Mertes & Mertes will post the latest announcements on this developing situation here. Please check back to this page frequently for the very latest information.
Remote Electronic Court Results in
Enormous Benefits for Litigants
COVID-19 has impacted all aspects of our lives. Illinois’s justice system is no exception.
Once packed with attorneys, litigants, members of the public and court personnel, courtrooms are now breeding grounds for deadly viral outbreaks.
In March of this year, in the City of New York, several judges, attorneys, court personnel and litigants became critically ill, and many died, as a result of viral outbreaks traced directly to the courtroom. In Illinois, judges and courthouse personnel have become sickened, many critically, as a result of outbreaks traced directly to the courthouse.
In the era of a pandemic, the courtroom is no longer a safe place. Judges throughout the country have been required to adopt alternative means of hearing cases while safeguarding the public they are responsible for protecting.
In late May, 2020, the Illinois Supreme Court issued guidance that required Illinois trial courts to hear most cases and proceedings remotely, “with limited exceptions.” “The Illinois Supreme Court is well aware of the human devastation inflicted by packed courtrooms during a pandemic,” said Attorney James Mertes, Managing Partner of the Law Firm of Mertes & Mertes. “For the safety of the public, our State’s highest court has required trial courts to conduct virtually all hearings remotely,” he added.
Though judges and attorneys do not prefer electronic court to the way in which court was once conducted before the pandemic struck, remote court is now much more preferable than in-person court appearances during the pandemic.“During a remote electronic court proceeding, we can see the witness’s entire face. We can easily and safely present and display exhibits to everyone involved in the proceeding, and we can much more efficiently do everything that we did inside of the courtroom before the pandemic struck,” Mertes said. “The court simply cannot properly conduct hearings inside of the courtroom while also following public health guidelines during a pandemic,” he added.“Think about it. How on earth could an attorney or judge ever properly evaluate the credibility of a witness whose face is almost completely covered in a face mask?” Mertes questioned. “We cannot safely exchange exhibits with a witness in person,” he added. “We cannot safely require litigants and members of the public to enter the confined courtroom’s viral load,” he said.
Recently, in the New York Review of Books, New York Judge Jed S. Rakoff publicly questioned how jury trials could be safely held “if…it is still dangerous for 12 people to gather together in tight quarters to hear and determine civil and criminal cases.”
Not everything about the changeover to remote electronic court proceedings has been bad. In fact, to the contrary, remote electronic proceedings have surprisingly brought about several tremendous benefits to those involved in the justice system. “When the threat of this pandemic is over, it is unlikely that an enlightened public will permit the courts to go back to business the old way,” Mertes said. “Parties to court cases are quickly catching on to the tremendous benefits of remote electronic court proceedings,” Mertes said. “To be honest, when we started this, we were reluctant,” Mertes admitted. “We did not fully understand just how good this would be for our clients,” he said. “They began realizing it at the same time we did,” he added.
Before the changeover to remote electronic court proceedings, attorneys traveled to and from the courthouse. They sat in the busy courtroom and waited for their cases to be called. Their clients paid for all that time. In addition, parties were often required to take a full day off of work to attend in-person court appearances. Now, with remote electronic court appearances, clients are paying a small fraction of the attorney fees they were previously required to pay. “The court appearances just take so much less time,” Mertes explained. “There is no travel time. There is rarely any waiting time,” Mertes said. “That savings is directly passed on to the client,” he added.
“We are not talking about a few pennies here and there,” Mertes explained. “We are talking about hundreds if not thousands of dollars in savings per client,” he added.But the benefits of remote electronic court appearances do not end with dramatic savings in attorney fees. Parties can now attend court proceedings from the safety and convenience of their smartphones or computers. “Where before a client would be required to take a day off of work to attend court, now she only needs to take a fifteen-minute break,” Mertes said. “Our clients save money both in terms of reduced attorney fees and far less loss of income,” he added.
Still, some attorneys are resistant to remote electronic court appearances. “We are still dealing with a few stragglers here and there,” Mertes said. “A dwindling remnant of lawyers are still resisting handling their cases at this next level,” Mertes added. “There are still a few lawyers out there who actually refuse to attend remote electronic court proceedings,” Mertes said. “They needlessly insist on making their clients go into the courtroom,” Mertes sighed. “They do this almost as if it is somehow good for their client,” Mertes observed. “If they really thought about it, they might realize that protecting a client’s health while reducing a client’s attorney fees will not cut into their pocketbooks in the long run,” Mertes said.
“A safer and more satisfied client actually results in a more successful law firm,” Mertes remarked. “We are using remote electronic court to get the very same great results for our clients, in a much safer and far less expensive way,” he added. “Our clients are seeing this in their results and in their reduced bills,” he said. “They feel much safer, and they are just thrilled,” he added.
“Absolutely no one should be questioning why we are conducting court through remote electronic means,” Mertes said. “The better question is why isn’t everyone doing it?” Mertes added.
Parenting Time During the COVID-19 Crisis (Posted March 21, 2020)
These are uncertain times. Children are experiencing abrupt and confusing changes to their normal schedules. Keeping a routine—including abiding by parenting time schedules—is important. The Governor’s March 20, 2020 Executive Order restricts travel for non-essential purposes. Parents must certainly comply with those restrictions during their parenting time. However, the Executive Order specifically allows travel to transport children pursuant to a custody agreement or parenting plan. Travel for parenting time exchanges has been deemed essential. Of course, people engaged in essential travel, including travel for parenting time exchanges, must still comply with all safety and social distancing requirements made necessary by the global pandemic. The Governor's Executive Order reconciles those issues with the need for parenting time to continue. Be smart and be safe. If you have questions about the effects of the Executive Order on your parenting plan and parenting time schedules, call our experienced family law attorneys at 815-626-1500. We are here. We are working day and night. We are open. And we're always happy to take your call.
MERTES & MERTES IS NOW OFFERING TELE-LAW! (Posted Friday, March 20, 2020)
Do you want to meet privately with a lawyer but you don't want to leave your home? We can handle that! It's free, convenient and safe. All you need is a smartphone or a computer with internet connection and a webcam.
Here's how it works:
1. Call 815-626-1500 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an video appointment with one of our fine attorneys.
2. Be sure to provide us with a private e-mail address.
3. Before your appointment, we will e-mail you a link to a private video conference with one of our attorneys. At the time of the appointment, just click on the link and join the meeting.
Mertes & Mertes, P.C. A New Era of Virus-Free Legal Excellence.
Mertes & Mertes will Remain Open Through Crisis (Posted Tuesday, March 17, 2020)
The Law Firm of Mertes & Mertes remains open. Our lawyers and staff are working day and night through this crisis. If you need us, we're right here. Just call us at 815-626-1500.
The Lee County Courts have now continued most cases until June, 2020. The Whiteside County Courts have continued most cases until May, 2020. The Courts are still open and available to handle emergency matters if they arise.
So how does all of this affect your case? In most instances, not at all. If your case was not set for a hearing or trial in the next month or so, it will be handled by us with the same careful attention we extend to all of our cases. If your case was set for a hearing or trial in the next month or so, that hearing or trial will very likely be delayed until Summer. The Courts are not at all happy about this situation, and neither are we. It is, however, an unfortunate consequence of our current reality. If you have questions, do not hesitate to call us. If you have a new case you would like to discuss with us, call us. We're right here.
Our law firm will remain open through the crisis. Even if the government orders a temporary shutdown, we will remain continuously available to you. We have the present ability to remain open and work from anywhere to fully service our clients' needs.
It is our job to think of and plan for the worst case scenarios.
And to confront them head-on.
So we planned for this. We will deal with it.
As always, we've got your back.
Temporary Visitor Restrictions Following March 15, 2020 COVID-19 Announcement (Posted Sunday, March 15, 2020)
This afternoon, the Illinois Department of Public Health announced a confirmed case of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Whiteside County. The Law Firm of Mertes & Mertes remains open. However, as a further safety precaution for the protection of the public, our clients, staff and attorneys, the Law Firm of Mertes & Mertes, P.C. will be temporarily suspending physical entry into our office. We remain open and available for all telephone and electronic communications! Please do not hesitate to call us at 815.626.1500 or communicate with us through e-mail. This visitor restriction is only temporary as we continue to evaluate this dynamic situation.
Message from Mertes & Mertes, P.C. (Posted Friday, March 13, 2020)
In our line of work, successes have not always occurred without challenges along the way. Our clients have entrusted some of the most important moments of their lives to us. They expect us to overcome obstacles and, at times, to think of the unthinkable.
And then to overcome it.
That is why we began planning for this possibility. Not yesterday. Not earlier this week. But beginning in early January of this year, when we first learned of a dangerous virus in the Wuhan Province of China that might one day affect us all.
The clients of the Law Firm of Mertes & Mertes have important legal needs that require our professional services in good times and in bad.
So over the past two months, we have held emergency meetings, worked late hours and long weekends, all in preparation for circumstances that would have been unimaginable to the world not too long ago.
At a time when it might have seemed a little bold or unnecessary, we prepared to charge right through a pandemic.
So that is precisely what we will now do.
Our clients’ legal needs will continue to be fully served, throughout this public emergency. We are also available to immediately serve the legal needs of the community, including previously unheard-of and unique legal issues that might arise in this pandemic.
To keep us running strong, the way in which we do all of that might look or feel a little differently for a while.
We have implemented several measures intended to allow us to remain open while at the same time protecting the health and safety of our staff, attorneys, clients and the general public.
First, we remain a fully electronic law firm. Our law firm has the immediate capability to electronically exchange legal documents with our clients. We can electronically file court documents with all federal and state courts in the State of Illinois.
Second, we will conduct electronic video conferences that allow us to confidentially share and review documents with any client or prospective client who has a phone or computer with a camera and/or an internet connection.
Third, our attorneys will conveniently schedule and conduct telephone conferences with our clients and other members of the public in need of our legal services.
Fourth, we will keep our clients and the general public fully informed of any impacts of this pandemic on our local court system, as they occur. Let’s start by doing that right now. In Whiteside County, all civil bench and jury trials, non-emergency hearings, arbitrations, and IDHFS child support cases have been continued to a date after May 4, 2020. All domestic and civil walk-in matters, normally scheduled to occur at 9:00 a.m. on Mondays and/or Thursdays in Sterling Court, have been continued to a date after May 4, 2020. All out-of-custody traffic, misdemeanor, felony, divorce/family, adoptions, civil lawsuits, civil jury trials and criminal jury trials which do not involve speedy-trial issues will be continued to a date after May 4, 2020. Marriages will not be scheduled in the Morrison or Sterling Court Facilities. In Lee County, the Courts have encouraged us to convert our court appearances to telephonic appearances, to reduce foot traffic in and out of the Courthouse.
Are you scared about what happens to your case now that we are facing a pandemic? Don’t be. We’re still here.
Do you have questions about what this means for your short-term and long-term legal needs? Call us. We’re still here.
Now instead of meeting with us in person, you may be meeting with us through a computer screen. Instead of us handing you documents to review, we may be e-mailing them to you. We regret the temporary reduction of in-person contact with our clients and the community. But you probably wouldn’t want to be around us anyway. We all smell like coffee and hand sanitizer.
And together, we will get through this just fine.
After all, we can succumb to great challenges, or we can define ourselves with how we confront them.
As with everything our law firm does, we choose the latter.
We choose to define ourselves.
Feel free to call us at 815.626.1500.