Editor’s note — The following information was released Thursday by Highland County Common Pleas Court Judge Rocky Coss.
The court hereby issues the following supplemental orders regarding safety measures for grand jury, jury trial, bench trial and other court hearings or proceedings in the Highland County Common Pleas Court, General and Domestic Relations Divisions:
1. Any person that is appearing as a prospective juror shall be required to wear a face mask or a clear face shield that covers the nose and mouth. The court can provide reusable masks or shields to use during the proceedings which must be returned once the day is completed. They will be disinfected after each use before being given to another person for use.
2. Court staff will ask each prospective juror several questions regarding their exposure to COVID-19 and each shall have their temperature checked prior to entering the courtroom. There will not be any record made of the responses or temperature readings.
3. There will be a hand sanitizing station outside of the courtroom and other sanitizers will be available in the courtroom along with sanitizing wipes.
4. Prospective jurors will be required to sit in places marked with an X of purple tape.
5. Grand jury proceedings will take place in the courtroom.
6. During jury selection, approximately 24 prospective jurors will be seated in the courtroom in places that are at least six feet apart from other seating places. The additional prospective jurors will be taken to wait in the large meeting room of the county administration building and will be called to come to the courtroom if needed.
7. The court’s handheld microphone will not be passed around for use during jury selection. Jurors will be permitted to stand and will be asked to speak loudly enough to be heard and to be recorded on the court’s audio recording device. When answering questions, jurors will lower their masks.
8. Attorneys shall remain at least six feet apart from prospective jurors during jury voir dire examination and from witnesses during questioning in the trial.
9. There shall be no more than two attorneys per party permitted at counsel table.
10. Witnesses who are wearing masks shall remove them during the testimony or at the option of the witness, a plastic face shield may be worn.
11. The court’s witness room is limited to a maximum of five persons at any time including any victim witness or law enforcement personnel. Other witnesses shall be required to wait in other areas or outside of the building while remaining six feet apart from other persons.
12. Once a witness other than the complaining witness for the state in criminal cases or the parties in civil cases have testified, they shall leave the building rather than wait in the witness room or other areas of the courthouse.
13. In order to be able to coordinate witnesses’ testimony, counsel for the parties may use their cellphones to text witnesses to let them know when they are needed to be in the witness room.
14. All exhibits will be presented or shown to the jury electronically whenever possible using an electronic device of the party offering the exhibit or by using the court’s Elmo projector. Counsel shall contact the bailiff at least 48 hours prior to the trial to prepare the Elmo and large screen television for usage and for testing. Counsel shall be responsible for making sure their electronic device is compatible with the Elmo and television prior to commencement of the trial.
15. If the exhibits are paper, the party offering the exhibit shall mark one original and make additional copies for the judge, the witness and each opposing party. However, once distributed, there shall be no touching of the copies by other persons. When questioning the witness, the party shall show the exhibit on the large screen television.
16. The court will provide disposable gloves for witnesses and counsel to use when needed for offering exhibits that cannot be copied, but the parties shall make every effort to limit the number of persons who have contact with the exhibit.
17. The witness stand and chair will be wiped down with disinfecting sanitizer after the testimony of each witness.
18. Counsel and their clients will be seated at opposite ends of the counsel table. They may have mobile phones that are in silent mode for the purpose of texting each other during the trial if desired or may use written notes. However, counsel and their clients may also confer directly, but they shall keep their masks or shields on when doing so.
19. Sidebars shall be as limited as possible. When one is necessary, it will be conducted on the record in the judge’s chambers.
20. When the court recesses, jurors and spectators will be asked to remain six feet apart from each other while they are exiting and to remain six feet apart during the recess. Counsel and their clients shall wait for jurors to exit before exiting and will observe social distancing from others and each other when possible when outside the courtroom.
21. The courtroom shall be deep cleaned and sanitized at the end of the day or the morning before a trial recommences.
22. Any person present in the courtroom shall be subject to temperature checks if they are showing possible symptoms of COVID-19 and may be required to leave the premises if they have a high temperature or other symptoms.
23. Spectators will continue to be limited pursuant to prior orders of the court but shall be subject to the provisions of this order as applicable including being screened by court staff prior to entering the courtroom. Spectators will sign in and provide an address and phone number for public health authorities to use if a courtroom based exposure to COVID-19 is later identified.
24. All of the foregoing will apply to all bench trial and of any other hearings or proceedings conducted in the court facilities.
25. Court staff will wear protective masks or face shields during all trial proceedings and at any time they are in contact with other persons in the courtroom or court offices.