Oregon courts to limit proceedings in effort to curb coronavirus
The chief justice of Oregon on Monday imposed significant new limits on court operations statewide, curtailing all but essential court hearings to limit traffic in and out of courthouses and stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Chief Justice Martha Walters announced the new limits late in the day. Court operations around the region were already straining under the toll of the public health threat. Early in the day, Multnomah County court officials sent home all jurors as a precaution.
Walters said the restrictions will be in place until at least March 27 and may be extended.
"The nature of this public health emergency has led me to order the postponement of most trials and court hearings," Walters said in a statement. "The guidelines that were issued just last Friday no longer reflect the recommendations from the Centers on Disease Control and changing circumstances here in Oregon.
"We will do our best to provide people their day in court when we can safely do so, and we will pursue options for continuing our work without requiring in-person appearances, but, at the present time, limiting the number of people coming into our courtrooms and courthouses is paramount," she said.
The announcement postpones "with limited exceptions" jury trials and other trials and hearings scheduled to begin between Thursday and March 27. Some courts will implement the postponements as early as Tuesday. Jury trials scheduled to wrap up by before Thursday will continue.
The limited exceptions include court proceedings involving people in jail with a legal right to a speedy trial, civil commitment hearings and certain protective order, family law, guardianship and treatment court proceedings.
Walters also banned in-state and out-of-state work-related travel and banned internal meetings of five or more people. Larger meetings will be conducted remotely or rescheduled.
Presiding judges in each county will decide which judges and court staff need to work at the courthouse or remotely from home.
The Oregon Court of Appeals has also canceled oral arguments that were scheduled to start Thursday.
In Multnomah County, officials said civil commitment hearings will be held by phone instead of in person at hospitals. People who want to apply for stalking protective orders can do so at the Justice Center, located at 1120 S.W. Third Ave. Delinquency and dependency preliminary hearings and 10-day detention review hearings will be held at the Juvenile Justice Center.
A half-dozen organizations that work with or in the criminal justice system also pressed for far more limited court operations statewide in light of the spreading pandemic.
The groups include the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, Disability Rights Oregon, Partnership for Safety and Justice, the Oregon Justice Resource Center, Sponsors and the Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.
Together, they asked Walters to impose stricter limits on court operations across the state.
Meanwhile, Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett on Monday took steps to reduce the jail population. Garrett said his staff identified about 60 inmates it considered eligible for early release due to their medical condition or the nature of their sentences.
He said people serving short sentences or nearing the end of a sentence were considered for release.
He said people who are in custody awaiting trial and eligible for release are being placed on home detention devices that the county will pay for.
People in custody for sex crimes and domestic violence are not eligible to leave early.
He said he expects to release people by Tuesday.
"We are not just doing this to let offenders out of jail," he said. "We are taking measures to prevent virus infections, to protect everybody in the jail facility and to maintain the long-term viability of our jail operations."
Meanwhile, work crews made up of people who are incarcerated will focus their efforts on the cleaning the jail instead of outside assignments.
Garrett said he's also asked local police chiefs to ask officers to issue citations when possible instead of booking suspects into jail. He said his goal is to book fewer people and to focus on serious violent crimes.
"That is going to trim the number of offenders who come into custody," he said.
He said that change is going into effect immediately.
A spokesman for the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office said the agency is not evaluating inmates for early release.
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