Malheur County Courthouse

ONTARIO — The fourth session of the Joint Special Committee on Coronavirus Response Tuesday included a report from Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Martha Walters on how the courts are addressing issues surrounding the virus and proposals surrounding public safety from the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In her letter, which she read, Walters reported that she has ordered that court operations be restricted to essential services.

“To the greatest extent possible we have directed judges and staff to work at home instated of at courthouses, postponed most jury trials and in-person hearings to reduce the number of parties, lawyers, and jurors being summoned into courthouses,” Walters said. For those proceedings that require in-person hearings, social-distancing measures are being imposed, she added.

Also, some in-person proceedings at the courts are not able to be postponed because of statutory deadlines that cannot be changed.

“Courts need more discretion to manage dockets in a way that recognizes people’s rights as well as measure required to protect public safety and public health.” Walter said.

Proposed solutions include suspending or extending statutory timelines in criminal cases, authorizing the chief justice to make those changes, including extending the current 30-day timeline to hold a hearing when a person receives a criminal citation or allowing hearings to be held by telephone or other electronic means.

The Chief Justice also proposed extending or suspending imposed timelines in non-criminal cases.

One of the proposals from the House and Senate Judiciary Committees is to modify arrest requirements regarding warrants. Many warrants require the person named in a warrant be arrested, although it may be for minor offense. The committee letter notes that in some cases to make an incarcerated person who committed a minor offense, some who poses a less substantial danger to the community, may be released to open up a spot in the jail for the new inmate.

Locally, the Malheur County Circuit Court is closed to the public. According to a press release from Sarah Poe from the Malheur County Health Department, anyone that has business with the court must use the back entrance of the building and take the elevator to the second floor (where the court office, courtrooms and district attorney’s office are located.

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