To help stem the coronavirus pandemic in Oregon, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Martha Walters has ordered courthouses statewide to postpone most trials and to limit in-person court service until at least June. The order also asks judges to work with district attorneys to identify people who can be safely released from jails.
Walters told OPB's "Morning Edition" that courts are required by the U.S. Constitution to provide suspects a speedy trial. At the same, she said, the court system must ensure people are as safe as they can be when they do go into a courthouse.
Courts are using social distancing, cleaning facilities, and limiting the number of people in rooms. Some proceedings can be held remotely. But Walters said some issues must be handled in person, and without delay. Protective orders, she said, must continue.
“We will do those on a very quick basis. We cannot postpone those at all. We can try to do some things remotely, as possible, and some things we’ll just have to continue to do in the courthouse, as needed. We’re working as quickly as we can to be able to provide those remote services, but not everything will be able to be done remotely,” she said.
The new coronavirus is a threat to people who live and work in close proximity to others, and that includes jail inmates and employees. Walters said various arms of the justice system are working in concert to reduce the numbers held in jails.
“We’ve asked judges to do what they can to release people when necessary, to be careful when they’re doing their sentencing, to watch for the conditions in the jails," Walters said. "We’re looking at that and are definitely encouraging partnership on this – with the jails, with people in law enforcement, with the DAs, with the public defenders, we’re all trying to work together for the common good, and it’s amazing the collaboration that’s gone on.”
Walters assured Oregonians with court business that they can go before a court if they need to.
“That’s why we need to stay open. We cannot close all the way. We have to provide access to justice when needed. So we’ve made provisions for that and if anybody is at all worried that they’re not having their issue addressed, please go to their court and let the courts know,” she said.