LIMA – All jury trials in Allen County Common Pleas Court will be postponed until next year as a result of a health emergency declared by Judge Terri Kohlrieser.
The decision comes as Allen County struggles with a rapidly rising number of positive tests locally for the coronavirus. It also includes Judge Jeffrey Reed’s courtroom.
Kohlrieser in a Nov. 20 court filing declared the emergency and ordered that all jury trials scheduled through Dec. 31, 2020, be continued until further order of the court. She cited Ohio Revised Code Section 2945.72 (H) in making her decision. It provides that a court may extend the time within which an accused must be brought to trial if such continuance is reasonable.
Judge Jeffrey Reed on Tuesday said the move was made “out of an abundance of caution” and amid concerns associated with the risks of having jurors and jury pools gather during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is something we studied and thought about long and hard,” Reed said. “We’re not thrilled about it, but we felt that under the circumstances it wasn’t wise to ask people to gather for jury trials at the present time, at least until the spike (in positive tests) goes down.”
Reed said the situation will be re-examined later this year.
“I was trying to figure out some other way. This (virus) is already causing a lot of issues with our schedules. But as much as serving on a jury is a civic duty, it’s just not worth risking the health and safety of the citizens of the county over,” Reed said. “It’s beyond everybody’s control right now.”
The latest court order is the second of its kind to be imposed by the local court this year as the nation battles with the COVID-19 pandemic. On April 1 the court suspended all jury trials from May 15 through June 15.
The order followed a directive issued on March 27 when Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed H.B. 197 into law, which put a freeze on “speedy trial” provisions and statutes of limitations for criminal actions that are guaranteed by the U.S. and Ohio constitutions. Additionally on March 27 Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor signed an order tolling all time limitations provided in the Rules promulgated by the Ohio Supreme Court, including the Rules of Criminal Procedure and the Rules of Superintendence between those same dates.
Kohlrieser’s Nov. 20 order acknowledges that by mid-October “much of the United States, including Ohio and specifically Allen County, began to see an increase in the number of positive COVID-19 cases.”
Several courthouse employees have tested positive for the corona virus and on Nov. 9 the Allen County jail announced its first COVID-19 positive test result for an inmate. “Since that time one more inmate and a number of staff at the jail have tested positive for COVID-19,” Kohlrieser wrote.
“As a result of all of the above, the Allen County Court of Common Pleas has strived to develop temporary policies and procedures designed to maintain essential court functions and to protect the rights of all individuals subject to court authority, while at the same time protecting the public health,” Kohlrieser wrote in her order, setting the stage for the suspension of all jury trials until next year.