Coronavirus: Local state, federal courts suspend jury trials, limit court operations

Hamilton County Courthouse/file photo
Hamilton County Courthouse/file photo
Published: Mar. 16, 2020 at 10:30 AM EDT
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CINCINNATI (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER) -There will be no jury trials in Hamilton County courts for at least the next 30 days and many court operations have been postponed, officials announced Friday, said our partners at the Cincinnati Enquirer.

“We’re trying to reduce the number of people who come into the courthouse,” said Judge Charles Kubicki, the common pleas court’s presiding and administrative judge.

In addition, officials said most civil matters as well as evictions, small claims and traffic cases will be postponed for at least 30 days.

There are exceptions, however. Most criminal matters involving incarcerated defendants will go forward, at the discretion of the assigned judge.

Attorneys and people representing themselves are being asked to work with court staff to reschedule any trial dates.

Judges will continue to handle stalking protection orders, temporary restraining orders and search warrants.

Hamilton County’s announcement came a day after local federal courts also suspended all civil and criminal trials for at least 30 days. In an order signed Thursday, U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley, chief judge for U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, cited “the severity of risk posed to the public.”

Also Friday, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters said that for at least the next three weeks, presentations to grand juries will be done without witnesses. Evidence will be presented by police officers or prosecutors’ office staff.

Deters’ office typically convenes two grand juries totaling 22 people every day. They are nonpublic sessions, during which the grand jury decides whether there is enough evidence to indict someone.

Deters also said his office will seek "own recognizance" bonds in nonviolent cases – meaning the defendant won't have to post money up front to be released from custody. That is expected to reduce the jail population and avoid having people show up to court for a bond hearing.

The county’s domestic relations judges on Friday released a statement encouraging attorneys to file documents electronically. Judge Amy Searcy said on Twitter that she will be “very generous" about granting continuances.

Also Friday, Clermont County court officials announced that all arraignments and jury trials set in the next 30 days beginning Monday will be rescheduled. Notifications of new dates will be made by mail.

Hamilton County Juvenile Court, which is at 800 Broadway, will continue to conduct hearings in cases "directly impacting the safety and well-being of children or the community," officials said in a news release late Friday.

For at least the next 30 days, all hearings will now take place at 800 Broadway, including those normally heard at the Youth Center on Auburn Avenue in Mount Auburn.

The elderly, people with suppressed immune systems, "or anyone exhibiting symptoms of sickness" are urged to stay home, the release says. Officials said efforts will be made to utilize phone or video conferences whenever possible.

"All other non-emergency cases for youth residing in the community will be scheduled out past this 30-day plan, including all diversion and unofficial dockets, community court hearings and youth court," the release says.

In-person visitation at the Youth Center has been suspended until further notice. "The court will diligently work to provide accommodations to maintain contact between children and their families as well as essential third parties," the release says.

Earlier this week, officials said hand sanitizer machines had been installed in "high-touch/high-volume areas" at the Hamilton County Courthouse. There also will be increased cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched surfaces, such as hand rails, elevator buttons and door handles.

All nonessential public gatherings at the courthouse, including student tours, mock trials and legal education classes have been suspended.

Anyone who has been summoned for jury duty Monday should not report to the courthouse. Further instructions will be available at or by calling 513-946-5879.

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