The Lorain County Court of Common Pleas is restricting access to the courthouse and speeding up arraignments and hearings to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
The efforts started Wednesday with an order from Administrative Judge Raymond Ewers and will continue indefinitely.
The courts remain open, but Ewers closed the courthouse to the public and moved proceedings to video hearings when possible. All civil and criminal trials were suspended until at least April 13.
The goal, said Court Administrator Sherry Clouser, is to keep everyone working at the court or appearing in front of judges safe.
The new rules will also help move people out of the jail, where the virus would be easily spread.
“So any of the cases that are pending that are incarcerated in the jail are proceeding,” Clouser said. “So yes it would help because those are made the priority hearing, the jail cases are.”
Lorain County has instituted a dedicated arraignment courtroom so other judges can focus on holding hearings, which often result in either a guilty plea and probation or a prison sentence.
Recent recommendations from the Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court Maureen O’Connor, issued March 13, included many of the measures being taken by Lorain County.
O’Connor appeared with Gov. Mike DeWine during Thursday’s coronavirus update to say she is working with the governor on legislation that would set policies for all county courts during a statewide emergency, such as the coronavirus pandemic.
Lorain County jail’s assistant administrator, Jim Gordon, said that because of the local court’s actions, the jail population is now 140 prisoners below its capacity of 422.
“We don’t have a goal of what our number should be,” Gordon said. “I mean it’s nice that it’s low now because that gives us the space, if we would have to isolate, we would have it.”
Two prisoners are currently under quarantine at the Lorain County jail, Gordon said, one whose family called and said he’d been in contact with a confirmed case. His test for the virus hasn’t come back yet. The other prisoner in quarantine was his cellmate.