Douglas County District Court delays most hearings, jury trials amid COVID-19 concerns
photo by: Mackenzie Clark
Most hearings in cases pending in Douglas County District Court, including jury trials, are postponed effective immediately, according to a Tuesday order from Chief Judge James McCabria.
In addition, Judge Amy Hanley has entered a period of self-quarantine, in accordance with a Kansas Supreme Court administrative order.
Local public health officials have warned against public gatherings of almost any size for at least the next eight weeks amid growing concerns of the coronavirus disease, COVID-19, and Douglas County’s first case was confirmed Tuesday.
According to the judge’s order, all hearings — including both criminal and civil cases — are postponed until further order of the division judge to whom the case is assigned, with a few noted exceptions. Counsel and pro se litigants will need to contact the divisions where matters are assigned for rescheduling.
Most hearings will occur via telephone or video where feasible, according to the order, and the dates should be set out to “a date far enough in the future to permit full consideration of information as it develops regarding the virus and its spread, impact and treatment,” according to the order.
“As regards jury trials, including criminal cases, the increasing restrictions and concerns that have continued to evolve reduces the ability to obtain an adequate spectrum of jurors without undue threat to the health and safety of everyone that would be involved in that process, to include the health and welfare of our citizen jurors, counsel, parties, witnesses (some of whom may have to travel from out of state) and court staff,” the order states. “Therefore, the time period of the continuances impacted by this order is a concern that this Court cannot ignore and must address before permitting jury trials to occur.”
Judges will still conduct search warrant requests, probable cause reviews of arrest warrants, initial bond determinations and “such other necessary functions as required or determined necessary,” according to the order.
Matters set between now and June 1 on the small claims, traffic court and limited action first appearances dockets and the Department for Children and Family Services dockets in divisions 2 and 5 are pushed out, and “in no event” will new dates for matters on those dockets be sooner than June 1, according to the order.
Hearings that are not affected by the order are child-in-need-of-care temporary custody hearings; juvenile offender detention hearings and offender detention review hearings; criminal first appearances each weekday afternoon; protection from abuse/protection from stalking hearings on Friday afternoons; and care and treatment cases, according to the order.
The Kansas Supreme Court issued an order Monday regarding the judicial workforce: employees must enter a 14-day self-quarantine period if they or a person within their household has traveled to high-risk locations that have seen widespread COVID-19 activity, including states on the coasts. Hanley’s husband had traveled to New York recently, according to a news release on Douglas County’s website, so she will be working from home as the order requires.
In orders issued last week, McCabria limited the public presence in courtrooms and the adjacent hallways to parties involved in cases, their attorneys and witnesses who have been subpoenaed, unless the person was specifically granted access ahead of time by the division judge.
Last week’s orders also suspended DNA swabbing, urine analysis testing and home visits until further notice. Court Services officers were also given authorization to allow probationers to report by telephone rather than in person.
In addition, the Douglas County sheriff was given the authority to grant some inmates 14-day furloughs from the Douglas County Jail if they were at risk or showed symptoms of COVID-19. Jenn Hethcoat, public information officer for the sheriff’s office, said via email Tuesday that the jail had “no inmates presenting with symptoms that indicated a concern regarding this illness.”
The Michael J. Malone Douglas County Law Library is also closed to the public until further notice, the county announced Tuesday. Attorneys may still enter, but they should limit their use of the law library to necessary matters only and “should not use the library for meetings and should not loiter or socialize in the library,” according to the county’s news release.
More coverage: Coronavirus (COVID-19)
As the pandemic continues, the Journal-World will be making coverage of COVID-19 available outside of the paywall on LJWorld.com.
Find all coverage of city, county and state responses to the virus at: ljworld.com/coronavirus/
What to do if you think you may have COVID-19
Patients who have symptoms — difficulty breathing, cough and fever — should stay home, immediately isolate themselves from others and call their health care providers. Patients should never show up unannounced at a medical office or hospital. Instead, they should call ahead to explain their symptoms and give health care workers the ability to minimize the risk to others.
If patients do not have health care providers, they may call the Lawrence Douglas-County health department’s coronavirus line, 785-856-4343.
For updated information on the outbreak, Kansas residents can email COVIDfirstname.lastname@example.org or call 866-534-3463 (866-KDHEINF), which is staffed 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday; and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
More information can be found through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s website or the Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health website.
Contact Mackenzie Clark
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