The Challenges of Courthouse Operations in a Pandemic

By on November 9, 2020

When chief judges take questions from their local bars about reopening procedures, one question that frequently comes up is: What happens if a juror tests positive in the midst of a trial?

The risk, however, is not just limited to jurors, as we saw last week in the US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, in Cincinnati. On Thursday, that court issued General Order 20-32. The order reported that a deputy US marshal (DUSM) stationed at the Potter Stewart Courthouse, who last reported for duty on October 30, became symptomatic on November 1 and was diagnosed as positive on November 5. The order continued:

It is understood that while the DUSM may have visited multiple public areas in Potter Stewart during the week of October 26, 2020, through October 30, 2020, including all floors, the CSO station, the guard shack and the snack bar, those areas have since been cleared and disinfected. The DUSM, however, while infected by asymptomatic, came into contact with Court employees throughout Potter Stewart, particularly the court security officers (CSOs).

As a consequence, “in order to ensure the health and safety of the judicial officers, Court and agency staff, and to prevent possible exposure to the COVID-19 virus, and the spread of such disease,” the entire courthouse was ordered closed until November 16, by order of Chief Judge Algenon Marbley. All employees known to have had contact with the DUSM, including CSOs, were ordered to self-quarantine and “get tested for COVID-19.” All criminal, civil and grand jury sessions were canceled.

Obviously, an event like this in the middle of an ongoing jury trial would be disruptive, to say the least. Now add in the uncertainty factor: Today Judge Marbley issued General Order 20-33, which rescinds the prior order entirely. The courthouse is reopened. Canceled hearings are apparently uncanceled. And it seems the self-quarantine and testing directions are rescinded as well.

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McDermott’s litigation team monitors US courts as they reopen amid the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis.

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