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Coronavirus (“COVID-19”) Update: The Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Weighs In

Yesterday morning, we discussed changes in court policies and how some courts and jails across Ohio are working together to release low-risk inmates. Yesterday afternoon, during Governor DeWine’s press conference, Ohio’s Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor weighed in concerning the judicial system. While there is no uniform and binding order that all courts implement identical changes in their policies and procedures, Chief Justice O’Connor outlined recommendations for Ohio courts to follow.

These include measures many courts have already taken and include the following:

Courts should close for non-essential services to reduce the level of public traffic but must remain open to address urgent matters; judges should coordinate to keep operations open and work with local leaders to ensure public access to the courts while minimizing in-person contact; courts should modify orders to reduce face-to-face interactions (by utilizing phone and video conferences, for instance); and courts should issue lower bonds to make it easier for inmates being held on pending charges to be released.

Justice O’Connor also recommended judges release inmates who are most at risk of contracting the coronavirus. She was not specific on these guidelines.

Again, these are mere guidelines-not hard and fast rules. Chief Justice O’Connor’s recommendations give Ohio courts wide discretion in how each court will handle its temporary orders amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier this week, Hamilton County Court Common Pleas Court Judge Tom Heekin urged the Ohio Supreme Court issue a set of rules to ensure consistency amongst Ohio courts and their temporary orders due to coronavirus. Like many in the legal community, he wishes to see more uniformity with respect to the temporary practices, policies, and procedures to ensure efficiency, consistency, and due process during this pandemic.

Lastly, the Ohio Supreme Court, in an effort to limit face-to-face contact during the coronavirus pandemic, will make $4 million in grants available to courts across Ohio to purchase equipment to conduct inmate arraignments by way of video conference.

Overall, Ohio courts are doing a good job at minimizing risk to the public while at the same time, ensuring defendants’ rights are protected.

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