Courts Remain Vital amid Coronavirus Crisis
By Csaba Sukosd | March 20, 2020
As much of Ohio slows and even shuts down due to the coronavirus, the state's judicial branch keeps operating.
Earlier this week, the necessity of courts was clear when a constitutional right for Ohioans came into question. Multiple lawsuits were filed over the state's primary election day on Tuesday: first to legally postpone it for the pandemic, and another to prevent an unlawful precedent.
"Courts must be open to address emergency and time sensitive matters," Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor said during a statewide address on Thursday. "Indiscriminate closure of the courts with no plan for these issues is not an option."
On the local level, there are public health concerns that existed before the pandemic. To many, the courts remain central to those in the criminal justice system rehabilitating their lives due to the opioid and methamphetamine crises.
"[Courts need to] find ways to provide remote, and yet meaningful treatment options for those with substance abuse disorder," Chief Justice O'Connor said.
Much like health departments across the state, courts and the judiciary are making daily decisions to protect Ohioans from the spread of the coronavirus. In conjunction with law enforcement, the chief justice has asked that jail populations be analyzed, to find ways to reduce potential exposure. It could identify people more vulnerable to the disease, based on age and health conditions, or implement alternatives to create more social distancing. Recognizance bonds for non-violent misdemeanor and traffic cases are one suggestion to address the issue.
"Judges should review their bail, and in the circumstances of which they have people detained in the jails, prioritize releases based on that," Chief Justice O'Connor said.
As a way to maintain services but cut down on the volume of traffic, courts are utilizing technology to reduce in-person interaction. Many of the state's 353 courts don't have the necessary equipment. So, Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor is dedicating $4 million of the Supreme Court's budget as part of a remote technology grant, which is among other funding opportunities the Court provides.
"We have such a such a variety of communities and court systems and resources. So, I am in favor of the solutions coming from the locals, and being implemented by the local courts, local community leaders, and officials," Chief Justice O'Connor said.