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Courts respond to coronavirus; some hearings and trials will be adjourned

Kent County judges are following recommendations from the Michigan Supreme Court, which includes postponing all civil jury trials and some criminal jury trials.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Coronavirus concerns are now impacting Kent County Circuit Court, where judges on Thursday decided to adjourn all civil jury trials and delay criminal jury trials if the defendant is out on bond.

“We want to take every precaution that we possibly can, so we are not contributing to this disease travelling from person to person,’’ Kent County Chief Circuit Court Judge Mark Trusock said.

The decision on Thursday closely follows recommendations made earlier this week by the state Supreme Court.

The recommendations, which are not orders, are part of an effort to reduce crowds in Michigan courtrooms amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Michigan’s judiciary is heeding this advice and taking action to lower the risk to litigants, court staff and the public who visit our courts,’’ Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack said in a statement.

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Trusock said criminal jury trials will still be scheduled for defendants held in jail. Older cases and cases that have been adjourned will be given preference. Cases involving child victims will also be given preference, he said.

Coronavirus safeguards also mean fewer people will be assembling in the ground floor jury pool room on Mondays, he said. A typical Monday sees between 150 and 250 people reporting for jury duty.

“Obviously, we cannot do that,’’ Trusock said. “We will limit the number of people we can bring in and set the chairs so they are seated six feet apart.’’

Staff will also step-up cleaning in public areas to help reduce risks associated with coronavirus, he said.

“We will be cleaning chairs and benches on a daily basis,’’ Trusock said. Signs will be posted outside the courthouse advising visitors about risk factors.

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Grand Rapids defense attorney Andrew Rodenhouse said court officials are being proactive and pragmatic.

“We need to understand that this is about protection of society, societal health, as well protecting an individual defendant’s right to have a speedy trial and a right to have a jury of your peers,’’ Rodenhouse said. “And so, there’s a balancing that needs to take place between the court and the public.’’

Operational changes may also be coming to the Kent County Jail. Inmates may see sentences shortened, under certain conditions, Trusock said.

“We will look at releasing people early who are at the end of their jail sentences,’’ Trusock said.

Kent County’s district courts have also received recommendations from the Michigan Supreme Court, which include asking judges to consider not holding a person in contempt because they were late due to a virus-related issue.

Chris Kittman, administrator of Wyoming’s 62-A District Court, said staff there are taking a “pragmatic and common-sense approach.’’

“While I agree that some people can’t/won’t be able to handle their business at court, a great majority of people still want to get their matter resolved and get on with their lives,’’ he said.

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