Summit County’s judicial system is adjusting to the pandemic, transitioning to video conferencing and working to expedite court processes
Despite the circumstances bringing many aspects of the world to a halt, Summit County’s justice system has been deemed an essential function and continues to operate even during the coronavirus pandemic.
County Attorney Margaret Olson reports the system has made adjustments to respond to the extreme circumstances, including delaying jury trials until June, speeding up some initial interactions between arrestees and the court system and meeting virtually instead of in-person in some cases. And she said that no inmates are spending more time in jail as a result of the pandemic.
“Nobody’s just sitting in jail waiting for a court date out in the future,” Olson said. “We’re open for business. We very quickly were able to transition over to doing 99% of the court’s business via video hearings.”
Olson stressed that measures like protective orders for domestic violence situations and stalking injunctions are still available to members of the public, and advised those who find themselves in those situations to contact the county’s Victim’s Assistance Program at 435-615-3851.
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Other court functions have been temporarily delayed, Olson said, with traffic cases, small claims court and matters regarding people not being held in custody continued until at least June 1.
On March 21, the Chief Justice of the Utah Supreme Court, Matthew Durrant, ordered the judiciary’s Pandemic Response Plan to be activated. Olson said the court system is complying with the high court’s order, which includes suspending criminal and civil jury trials until after June 1.
According to the administrative order, if a defendant is in custody on class B or C misdemeanor offenses, the assigned judge must reconsider the custody status and is encouraged to release the defendant.
Olson said Judge Shauna Kerr investigated whether anyone is serving a sentence for such misdemeanors in the Summit County Jail and determined that no inmates fit that description.
“That combined with some safety and COVID-19 measures that our sheriff implemented immediately with regard to the county jail — I feel like we’ve done a good job of assessing the safety of the inmates we’re responsible for and making sure we don’t have anyone in the jail unnecessarily,” Olson said.
She added that she has not advised the Summit County Sheriff’s Office to arrest fewer people, and said the office is “conducting law enforcement activities per normal.”
Sheriff’s Lt. Andrew Wright said that deputies are doing as much work as they can remotely, like filing witness statements and taking reports over the phone or via video chat. He added that Sheriff Justin Martinez has advised law enforcement personnel to use common sense and to adapt to the current environment, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to relax their standards.
“If people choose to violate the law — specifically, assaulting one another, domestic-violence type of stuff, getting intoxicated and destroying property — we’re not going to tolerate it,” Wright said.
Another factor helping to reduce the amount of time people spend in custody is that, as of January, Summit County has a full-time criminal judge.
“That was very good timing for us,” Olson said. “In the past, we only had criminal judges here on Mondays.”
Previously, a person would have to wait until the following Monday for an initial appearance or bail hearing, whereas Judge Richard Mrazik works in 3rd District Court daily, Olson said.
“When people are booked into the county jail, we are assessing those situations and trying to get them to initial appearance and bail hearings as soon as possible. We have set up a method to be able to do this all by video,” Olson said. “If anything, these due process procedures are being afforded in a quicker manner than they were before because we’re making sure we are scheduling hearings as soon as possible.”
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