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Courts waiting for clearance to reopen

Posted at 6:58 PM, Jun 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-24 05:37:11-04

LANSING, Mich. — As if the American legal system doesn't move slowly enough under the best of circumstances, the coronavirus shutdowns have just about ground it to a halt.

Courthouses won't be able to fully operate until each court gets the go-ahead from the Michigan Supreme Court, but that doesn't mean that judges and lawyers aren't still hard at work.

"We want to be sure that everyone's statutory and constitutional rights are maintained, and that it's the best thing for the health aspect as well," says Lansing's 54-A District Court Judge Louise Alderson.

She says theirs is just one of many dealing with the pandemic.

Jury trials have been suspended, but they can easily move through smaller trials dealing with misdemeanors and civil cases, thanks in part to Zoom meetings.

"It's certainly given us an environment to continue to do our jobs," said Alderson. "We can continue to keep numbers down of people coming into the courtroom."

"The courts are very accommodating, most have been very agile, given the current conditions, to adjusting to not only people's ability to participate via zoom, but they also recognize some things need to be done in person and they're willing to adjourn," said Defense Attorney Andrew Abood.

Abood says one of his cases, that of Bdour al-Yasari, who is accused of plotting to kill her husband last year, has been put on hold until courts open back up.

"There won't be a trial until the courts feel they can safely call in approximately 100 jurors in order to pick a jury," Abood said.

Just because there's no trial, that doesn't mean nothing's being done.

Abood says they can still file for motions in the case.

"It's just a matter of what we can do in the courtroom. But we can win the case with the work we're doing now," he said.

Judge Alderson says it's going to be a while before we can see a jury trial in any mid-Michigan court.

"We do have to look individually to our courts as to what the health risks are in the area or region. You have to show a 14-day downward trend before you can move on to the next phase."

Like a lot of the courts now, 54-A is currently in phase two of its reopening process, working at half capacity.

Judge Alderson says they hope to get to phase three, full capacity, by the end of the month.

Local courts are also working on pilot programs, like using larger spaces to hold jury trials to keep everyone involved at least 6 feet apart.

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