ROMNEY — Courts here have begun slowly reopening, but don’t call it business as usual.
The Judicial Center will allow no more than 5 people in the lobby at a time. Proceedings will routinely include videoconferencing by some participants. Visits to the circuit clerk, magistrate clerk and other offices essentially will be by appointment only.
“We don’t want people coming to the courthouse thinking they can just come in,” Chief Judge Charles Carl said Friday. “We’re still going ahead with the business of the justice system, but it comes with some caution concerns. They’re going to have to follow our rules to do it.”
One casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic: the May grand jury session has been scrapped. The next grand jury will be convened in September.
“We’re going to have to finish our January term,” Carl said. Many of the 18 indictments have yet to be disposed of, including 1 scheduled jury trial.
He predicted a big September grand jury, which will be the last for outgoing Prosecutor Betsy K. Plumer, who is not running for re-election.
Carl said safety amid the pandemic will be apparent starting with arrival at the Judicial Center door, which will be closed.
Drop boxes are outside for documents that need to be filed with the circuit and magistrate clerks.
Bailiffs will question each person entering about their exposure to the virus. Visitors may be subject to a non-contact temperature reading by the bailiff.
People entering will be required to use hand sanitizer and wear masks.
“Bring your own,” Carl said. “We may or may not have masks available.”
Actually, Carl said, the 1st line of defense is avoiding the center.
“For magistrate court, continue to pay fines by credit card or certified check by mail,” Carl said.
Call the circuit clerk or judge with questions. Much business can be conducted online or by mail.
“If it has to be in person, it can be scheduled,” Carl said.
But court proceedings won’t look the same as before. Court staff, attorneys and their clients will be in the courtroom, but few others.
“I’m not going to say you can’t have witnesses.” Carl said. “We’re not going to deny a fair, just, full hearing, but it might be a little cumbersome because it may take more time.”
That could mean having witnesses waiting in the lobby or outside in cars to be contacted when they are needed in the courtroom.
Expect participation via Skype and other teleconferencing as well.
Carl said the courtrooms will be cleaned between every proceeding.
Carl and Carter Williams, the other judge serving the 22nd Circuit, wrote the judicial order outlining the new procedures in response to a State Supreme Court directive that told courts to begin reopening this week.
The Supreme Court order says grand juries can convene again beginning June 15 and that jury trials can resume 2 weeks later, June 29.
“I want to be proactive in precautionary efforts,” Carl said.
The judges will review the procedures weekly.