Local courts adapt to increase of COVID-19 cases

Local News

TERRE HAUTE, In. (WTWO/ WAWV) — Judges throughout the state on Monday received guidance from Indiana’s Supreme Court on how to proceed with the recent spike of COVID-19 cases.

The guidance was based on the risk metrics color designated to each county by the Indiana State Department of Health.

The guidance encouraged limiting the number of people who are allowed in the courthouse and holding proceedings online as much as possible.

“So many have been at least quarantined or exposed to someone who has been diagnosed, if not diagnosed themselves,” Judge Joseph Trout, the circuit court judge for Clay county, said. “And two, what a mess if a juror happens to come down with COVID.”

The Supreme Court suggested red counties, such as Clay County, allow court employees to work from home. This is a suggestion that will be difficult for Clay County to follow.

“We are a small county of 26,000 people and there’s only two courts and two judges and there’s only three staff members per court,” Trout said.

Trout said the limits on gathering sizes might have an impact on how jurors are selected.

“Which is kind of hard because most of us judges have been picking juries remotely like at fairgrounds or whatever and you end up having more than 50 people there,” Trout said.

In the currently orange Vigo County, Judge Sarah Mullican, said a lot of planning had already gone into how to adapt to the worsening pandemic.

“Because you know everyone has to sit six feet separately. We had temperature screenings. Everybody wore masks and we just had to modify our behavior and everything we did,” Mullican said.

Mullican said she has decided some hearings, such as guilty pleas, should be in person, but she plans on limiting those cases to lawyers and the parties involved.

“We have plenty of people and obviously help each other out if we need to cover out hearings,” Mullican said.

Both judges said they keep up with the state Department of Health’s county metrics map to see if their county’s color has changed.

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