How Local Court System is adapting to COVID-19 and Gradual Reopening

As businesses begin to reopen, so are local government services. This includes local courts and the judicial system.

Posted: May 15, 2020 6:35 PM
Updated: May 20, 2020 11:57 AM

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) - As businesses begin to reopen, so are local government services. This includes local courts and the judicial system.

News 10 spoke to Judge John Roach or the Vigo Superior Court Division One. He spoke about the different protocols the Vigo County Courthouse has put in place and what changes they had to make to their operation amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Judge Roach says they’ve limited public access to the courthouse to only essential parties. This could be witnesses, victims, and litigants in cases that they are hearing. They have continued to conduct hearings throughout all of this via video or phone calls and processing cases—especially criminal ones.

Evictions and foreclosures for residential properties were put on hold per Governor Holcomb’s order.

Judge Roach says he wouldn’t consider their operation to be “backlogged”. They are still conducting filings electronically, by fax, and by mail. He says they aren’t a normal business, and they have to keep going despite all that is going on.

“We haven’t closed. Unlike businesses that can shut down—the courts can’t shut down,” Judge Roach said, “We haven’t closed—we’ve changed.”

Judge Roach says courthouse security is doing health screenings at the door, temperatures are being taken, and they’ve worked extensively with the Clerk’s office to ensure those who can be are working from home.

Judge Roach says the courthouse is currently working on a phased return to normal operations. He says the plan for this return is due to the Indiana Supreme Court by May 30th.

They have already started meeting with the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department, Security, and Maintenance staff at the courthouse to address safety precautions.

They’ve met with the Vigo County Commissioners, Prosecutor’s office, Health Department, Public Defender’s office, and the Terre Haute Bar Association. It’s all in an effort to develop a plan to return to a normal schedule of operations.

Currently, part of what’s changed is that they have stopped jury trials until at least July 1st. Judge Roach says part of their plan is to ensure safety measures are in place when court staff, jurors, and the public can return to the courthouse.

“We take that call very seriously when we ask citizens to come in here and perform their civic duty as jurors.” Judge Roach said, “It’s essential to our operation. But before we call them in here to do that, we want to make sure that we have the proper safety measures in place.”

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