Editor’s note — The following was submitted by Highland County Common Pleas Court Judge Rocky Coss.
The Highland County Common Pleas Court plans to resume full operations of the General and Domestic Relations Divisions effective June 1.
For the past six weeks, the court has been maintaining a reduced operation with one staff member working in the office each day and the others working remotely from home. This will increase to two staff members being in the office beginning May 5. All staff will be present beginning May 25.
The court has been conducting hearings on some criminal cases as well as hearings on civil protection orders and other urgent civil matters. That will continue through May. Many of the criminal cases have been conducted by video with the defendants appearing from the jail or state correctional facilities.
Utilizing Zoom software, the court conducted the April Drug Court docket sessions online and will continue to do so through May. Many civil case pretrials have been conducted by telephone. Some civil and criminal hearings will be conducted in person beginning May 5.
There have been no jury trials or grand jury sessions since March. A grand jury will be empaneled on June 2 and will meet on that day in addition to the June 16. Jury trials will also resume in June. The court is putting in place several safety measures to protect jurors, parties, attorneys, law enforcement officers, court staff and the public.
Protective shields will be installed in the reception areas of both divisions. Shields will be installed on the backs of the benches in the courtroom. During jury selection prospective jurors will be seated at least 6 feet from each other and will be required to wear protective masks. The court will be able to provide some protective face masks for those jurors who do not have them. There will also be a sanitizing station and hand sanitizer available. The courtroom will be cleaned at the end of each day and throughout the day as needed.
During an actual trial, the 12 jurors and one or two alternates will be spaced around the courtroom with three to four being seated in the jury box and the remainder on benches throughout the courtroom to maintain social distancing recommendations. This may require a reduction in the number of spectators that may be present.
Once normal operations are restored, the court will conduct jury trials for those defendants that are incarcerated while awaiting trial first, and then for those defendants who have been released on bail.