BENTON — Fears of the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus — COVID-19 — have now disrupted the local court system.
In a notice from the office of Kentucky 42nd Judicial Circuit Judge James T. Jameson that was sent late Thursday night, it was announced that both the Calloway County and Marshall County judicial buildings were being closed to the public, starting Monday. This is to continue through April 10.
When reached Friday, Jameson said this was not a decision reached lightly. He also said that the directive came from a higher source.
“Much of it came from the (Kentucky) Supreme Court,” Jameson said, adding that he had been having discussions with both local and state officials about the COVID-19 situation ahead of Thursday’s order by the Supreme Court that all in-person court dockets were being scrapped, along with trials and other proceedings. “We knew that we likely would receive this kind of request. We just didn’t know when. Then, (Thursday) night, we got the word.”
Jameson said the 42nd Circuit buildings being essentially closed to the public, unless for emergency matters, is not going farther than the Supreme Court order. He said court officials will still go to work and will be available in case someone arrives with a matter that can be handled. However, he stressed patience because some matters will have to wait.
“We will have (court security officers) manning the doors and people can talk to them to see if their business warrants being able to see somebody,” Jameson said. “Most people, though, I imagine will not get through the door. However, if we have emergency protective orders or domestic violence orders, things like that, we still will be handling those.
“If there is something that needs to be done, we’re going to make sure that justice is not delayed. Our people are going to be here and if there is something that needs to be handled, it will be taken care of.”
Jameson also said matters such as preliminary hearings in district court, arraignments for jail inmates and circuit court cases with probation violations, as well as district court cases involving mental health hearings are considered priority cases. He said prelims have time frames where the law governs when those cases must be heard.
With other types of cases, Jameson said the court is trying to handle them over the phone.
“There’s two types of situations, in particular, we are trying to address,” he said. “One has to do with people simply coming into the circuit court clerk’s office who are looking for general information. We have a lot of people who come in and it turns out that they don’t need to be (in that office) and they are referred somewhere else, like the health department or the PVA office or the county clerk’s office. We don’t need that right now.
“We also have situations with probation and parole, where we have a lot of people coming in at the same time to see their probation officers. I’ve seen it where we’ve had as many as 30 to 40 people sitting outside the office waiting to get in, so we need to limit that type of activity while all of this is going on.
“I also had someone message me on Facebook (Friday) and he said, ‘Hey, I’m taking my CDL license exam in the next two weeks, I really don’t want a delay on that.’ I think we can make special arrangements for something like that. There are still some things that can be done.”
By sending this information to the public this week, Jameson also said he hopes to alleviate problems for defendants who have court dates scheduled. Calloway Circuit was to have had dockets Tuesday and Thursday.
“We have people, not just defendants but also attorneys, who will be coming in from places like Cincinnati and Texas and others, so travel arrangements for them is something that has to be considered. We wanted to make sure there was enough notice ahead of their scheduled appearances that they could know that they didn’t have to make those long trips next week,” he said, recognizing that this has the potential to cause great inconvenience. “Criminal cases, in particular, are going to be the biggest hardship out of all of this. I mean, some people who have been in jail and were thinking they would be getting out in two weeks, now they may be in jail for four weeks. So we don’t want that to happen.
“One thing we are really trying to do is have defendants stay in touch with their attorneys and see if agreements can be reached with the prosecution, whenever possible.”
In the release Thursday night, Jameson said that, as chief circuit court judge, it was his duty to give the public the information.
As of now, activities such as obtaining a driver’s license, matters concerning REAL-ID, visiting probation and parole, pretrial services, the commonwealth’s attorney’s office or the district, circuit or family court judge offices are off limits. Anyone with business in these offices should reschedule.
“Anyone that has a scheduled court date during this time should contact their attorney if they have one, or if not, the county Circuit Court Clerk’s office at (270) 527-1480 (Marshall) or (270) 753-2714 (Calloway) to receive further instructions. Those who have business with pretrial services for any court should call 270-527-8815 (Marshall) 270-753-9917 (Calloway) and leave a message with a reliable number for pretrial services to return a call to.
“Those who need to report to Probation & Parole or otherwise contact them for either county should call 270-527-3515 (Marshall) or 270-753-7980 (Calloway). Emergency matters will still be handled as needed including requests for Emergency Protective Orders and Domestic Violence matters. We appreciate your patience and understanding during this time and ask for your continued prayers for our community and its leadership.”