Judicial centers across the state will dramatically reduce court proceedings beginning Monday in an attempt to reduce potential exposure to the coronavirus.
The Holbrook Judicial Center will bar public entry into the facility beginning Monday and will stop all but essential court proceedings. Similar actions are being taken at other regional judicial centers.
The judicial centers will stay on restricted access until April 10, or until further notice, according to the order that was issued Thursday evening by state Chief Justice John Minton.
“Access to the court will be limited,” Daviess County Attorney Claud Porter said Friday. “It won’t be open. The only people allowed at hearings are attorneys and the parties.”
Minton’s order calls for all in-person hearings to be canceled with the exception of “emergency matters, domestic violence hearings and evidentiary hearings in criminal cases.”
All civil trials are postponed, as are all traffic, small claims, eviction, juvenile, probate and guardianship cases. While witnesses can appear, anyone who has visited Europe, China, Iran or South Korea in the last 14 days, has been diagnosed with coronavirus or has had contact with someone with coronavirus, is sick with fever, cough or shortness of breath, or has been in a portion of the U.S. where community spread of the virus is known to have occurred will not be allowed to enter judicial centers.
People who are ill are asked to call their judicial center and ask for a continuance in their case.
Chief Daviess Circuit Judge Jay Wethington and Chief District Judge Daniel M. “Nick” Burlew II issued an order Friday afternoon, barring anyone but court personnel, attorneys and staff, law enforcement and people filing emergency petitions from the judicial center.
The driver’s license office has temporarily suspended issuing new licenses and permits, as well as driver testing.
In the courts, “we are having hearings on an emergency basis only,” Wethington said Friday afternoon. The court staff will still be at work to handle hearings that will still take place, he said.
Arraignments in criminal cases will be handled by video so prisoners won’t have to be transported to the judicial center, Wethington said.
Postponing so many hearings will cause disruptions in cases going forward. Wethington compared it to closing the courthouse for a weather event or a holiday, and said the staff would adjust the court dockets.
Ohio Circuit Clerk Shannon Kirtley said “our judges have canceled all court unless it’s something on an emergency basis that needs to be heard.
“Right now, an arraignment for someone who is not in jail is going to be continued,” Kirtley said. As far as public access to courts, “the only people that are going to be allowed in the courtroom is the defendant and his or her attorney.”
McLean County Circuit Clerk Stephanie King-Logsdon said her office was busy Friday, sending out notices about the changes in the court dockets.
“Basically, no Circuit Court will be docketed,” King-Logsdon. The next several Monday Circuit Court motion hours are canceled.
Hancock Circuit Clerk Michael Boling could not be reached for comment Friday.
Muhlenberg County Circuit Clerk Camron Laycock said the judicial center in Greenville will also be ready to implement Minton’s order on Monday.
“We are going to narrow (the docket) down to things that are an extreme emergency,” such as hearings on emergency protective orders and domestic violence orders, Laycock said. Arraignments will also be conducted by video.
“We are going to explore that, because it’s something we don’t normally use,” Laycock said. Court-ordered payments will be pushed out for 60 days, Laycock said.
To help contain the potential spread of the novel coronavirus, “I think this is the best plan moving forward,” Laycock said.
James Mayse, 270-691-7303, firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @JamesMayse