Chief Judge: Local Courts Working Together During COVID-19 Crisis
March 31, 2020
By Jessica Mathews/News@whmi.com.
The Livingston County Judicial System continues to operate amid the COVID-19 crisis – although only essential services are being provided and new technology methods are being implemented.
Chief Judge Michael Hatty says many changes have been implemented in accordance with Governor Whitmer’s Executive Stay Home, Stay Safe order as well as a separate order from Michigan Supreme Court Justice Bridget McCormack. Judge Hatty issued an original order March 16th stating the courts are open for limited purposes for essential services during the public health emergency. He says that was followed by a Michigan Supreme Court order of superintending control that basically encapsulated everything he had put in place and added a few things. Judge Hatty says they’re operating in a manner consistent with orders from Governor Whitmer as well as Chief Justice Bridget McCormack, the latter of which was recently amended to move out limiting essential functions through April 14th. It will either expire at that time or be moved out.
When it comes to balancing justice and public health, Judge Hatty tells WHMI they recognize the court system is absolutely vital to the orderly administration of society – the courts are open and available to handle disputes as necessary to keep justice rolling in the community. He says they want to protect their employees and want citizens to follow the Governor’s order but if they need to access the court system, they’re available to help them but are doing it in a way that protects the staff while at the same time taking care of citizen’s needs. Judge Hatty said he’s been absolutely amazed, impressed and thankful for the cooperation of staff in the court system. He says there’s been great cooperation among judges as well as their limited staffing - noting they never have more than 10 people in a room but many times it’s less than that.
Judge Hatty says they’re implementing technology to keep things going and as long as the Stay Home, Stay Safe order is in place, they’ll be able to move forward – adding perhaps not as swiftly as they used to but lawyers are also working pretty well together to try and move things along with the courts. Judge Hatty says they’re handling things as they come up, stressing any emergencies are being taken care of right away. He said whether it’s a Personal Protection Order or removing a child from unsafe circumstances, they’re dealing with that – stressing they are handling all of the musts for public health and safety.
The majority of cases have been adjourned but arraignments are still being held remotely by video as normal. Sentencings are mostly being held as normal for those incarcerated via video but some for others are adjourned depending on circumstances. Only criminal trials are taking place when necessary and civil jury trials are suspended. Judge Hatty says they’re capable of doing many things by utilizing different technologies such as Zoom and poly-com. He says bench trials can be conducted from videos rooms at the court and in the Livingston County Jail while pre-trial conferences can be done by remote access so there are avenues and methods in place to keep dockets moving if this goes on much longer and still be able get business done. He noted one judge has a docket planned next week with motions scheduled in 15 minute increments so they’ll evaluate how that goes. Hatty stressed they’re working their way through this but have technology to handle most things and are experimenting with it.
While the courts are not open for public services, filings are still being accepted by fax, email, U.S. mail or a drop box located at the main entrance to the judicial center. The lobby will remain quarantined so employees are not exposed to the general public. Hatty says they have one video room available for the courts and another for public defenders to meet with jailed defendants to avoid face-to-face contact. He says they’ve been scheduling different days for judges and doing some docket shuffling for sentencings, motions and pre-trials.
Hatty says the local courts have all been working together to use technology to make things run smoothly and he strongly suggested that people pay close attention to the Governor’s orders. He says the courts are here to be of service as necessary and will continue to exercise their duty of operating but are doing so in a safe and limited manner to get through this crisis.
More information on court services is available through the provided link.