Courts slow to a crawl until virus eases


By J Swygart - jswygart@limanews.com



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See more local coverage about COVID-19 at LimaOhio.com/tag/coronavirus.

LIMA — All scheduled jury trials in Allen County Common Pleas Court have been suspended for at least the next 30 days and other temporary changes have been put in place as county officials throughout the region continue to address how to safely conduct necessary county business in the face of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Allen County Common Pleas Court Judges Jeffrey Reed and Terri Kohlrieser on Monday issued a statement announcing that protocols are now in place with the intent to minimize and avoid large crowds in the courthouses and justice center by restricting non-essential access to those facilities.

All hearings involving incarcerated defendants may be conducted by video or continued on a case-by-case basis and all civil pre-trial hearings will be conducted by conference call, according to the judges. Plans are being developed for limiting the number of court employees and/or rotating their work schedules.

“The emergency procedures help to ensure that the Common Pleas Court of Allen County … can provide necessary essential services while minimizing exposure of litigants and court personnel and complying with the directives of state and federal officials,” the judges wrote. “Courts balance the tightrope walk between individual freedoms and public interest. During a time of public crisis, that tightrope is raised high above the ground. The commitment of the courts to maintain a healthy and neutral balance in a time of heightened anxiety, fears and even panic is the goal of your common pleas court judges. That commitment is reflected in the temporary emergency procedures being utilized by these courts.”

In Lima Municipal Court, effective immediately, defendants and witnesses are encouraged not to appear in person for pre-trial hearings. Presiding Judge David Rodabaugh, in a statement issued Monday, said prosecutors and defense attorneys are mandated to conduct such hearings by telephone at the current time.

All small claims and forcible entry and eviction cases have been continued for three weeks and will be rescheduled after that time period, Rodabaugh wrote. Defendants scheduled to appear in traffic court are encouraged to submit written pleas of not guilty. Forms for such pleas are available on the municipal court’s website or at the clerk of court’s office.

Persons required to appear in person at the Lima Municipal Court are not to bring anyone else to court with them unless absolutely necessary.

Rodabaugh said the steps are being implemented “to protect the public and court staff” from the coronavirus pandemic “while maintaining court operations with the minimum disruption possible. These steps are subject to change as this situation changes.”

Persons with questions may contact the court at 419-221-5275.

Putnam County Clerk of Courts Kim Redman said judges and court officials in that county huddled Monday to discuss the best way to move forward in light of the coronavirus fears.

“It’s mostly business as usual, with a few alterations,” Redman said. “In both (common pleas and municipal) courts the goal is to limit as many non-essential people as we can from coming into the courthouse.”

Redman said attorneys will conduct criminal pre-trial hearings with the judge via telephone and that video arraignments will take the place of in-person hearings.

Jury trials will be vacated as needed, “if possible in light of (defendants’) constitutional rights to a speedy trial.”

Changes to the day-to-day operations in Auglaize County courts reportedly were being discussed on Monday, but no new mandates were publicly announced. “Stay tuned,” said a court employee.

“Van Wert County Common Pleas Court has continued all non-time-sensitive matters and will conduct as many preliminary matters as possible by telephone,” Bayliff Mike Kirkendall said in an email.

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By J Swygart

jswygart@limanews.com

ONLY ON LIMAOHIO.COM

See more local coverage about COVID-19 at LimaOhio.com/tag/coronavirus.

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