Judge orders federal courthouses closed to public


By Eric Heisig - Advance Ohio Media, Cleveland (TNS)



CLEVELAND, Ohio — The chief judge for the Northern District of Ohio on Monday closed five federal courthouses to the public in Cleveland, Akron, Youngstown and Toledo until May 1, another measure to combat the spread of coronavirus.

Chief U.S. District Judge Patricia Gaughan’s order comes a week after another one that suspended all civil jury trials and strongly discouraged her colleagues from holding criminal trials for the time being. Her new goes considerably farther.

The order still allows people who have authorized business to enter the building, as well as credentialed members of the media. Clerk of Courts Sandy Opacich clarified in an email said that the building is not completely closed, as employees may still enter the building for work.

In addition to the federal courts, the courthouses across the state hold other offices. The Carl B. Stokes U.S. Court House on the west side of downtown houses the Cleveland Immigration Court, while the Howard Metzenbaum U.S. Courthouse on the east side of Public Square is home to the bankruptcy court. It was not immediately clear how either government office would change their plans in light of the closures.

Under the new order, no civil or criminal jury trials can proceed before May 1. Initial appearances, arraignments and detention hearings will take place by phone or videoconference when it’s practical, and pretrials can only be held by phone, according to the order.

If an inmate does appear in court, they will be screened for a fever or other coronavirus symptoms.

Grand jury proceedings are also on hold until May 1, unless “absolutely necessary” and approved by Gaughan, the order states.

A lot of sentencings are also postponed, unless the defendant faces a sentence that would be equal to or less than the time they have already been jail, or if the judge finds another pressing issue.

Judges will also not hold plea hearings, though some may let the judge know their intent to plead guilty and make arrangements to admit their guilt and be sentenced on the same day.

Re-entry court and petty offense proceedings are also on hold.

As for civil matters, they will be held by phone or videoconference, according to the order.

The order also says court employees must work from home unless a supervisor or judge tells them to go to a courthouse. The intake windows, where lawyers and litigants file their cases, are also now closed.

The order follows similar ones taken by courts across the region and nationwide as health officials report more and more cases.

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By Eric Heisig

Advance Ohio Media, Cleveland (TNS)

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