Dr. Echols and Mayor Lyda Krewson

St. Louis City Health Department Director Dr. Fredrick Echols and Mayor Lyda Krewson provided an update on plans and precautions in response to  coronavirus on Thursday, March 12 at City Hall. Photo by Wiley Price

To reduce exposure to the COVID-19 corona virus, Presiding Judge Rex M. Burlison of the 22nd Judicial Circuit of Missouri on Friday ordered the suspension of jury trials until April 13.

Burlison said, “The circuit’s intention is to make the courts available to the public during this health crisis but to reduce the public’s exposure as much as possible until we have further direction from public health authorities.”

Jury trials postponed during this period will be rescheduled.

People who received a jury summons for March 16 through April 3 should not report. Those persons will go back into the general pool of the Jury Commissioner’s Office for future selection. No jury trials had been scheduled for the week of April 6-10.

In addition, walk-in weddings on Friday afternoons at the courthouse will be suspended on March 20 and April 3 and until further notice.

Burlison noted that the public health situation would remain fluid and that the court would make additional adjustments as appropriate.

Original story

For now, St. Louis city courts are continuing as “business as usual,” said Presiding Judge Rex Burlison for the 22nd Judicial Court at a press conference at the mayor’s office today (March 12) regarding the impact of COVID-19 (coronavirus) and how preventative precautions will affect the region.

But court leaders are simultaneously preparing for the “very real” possibility that the courts could shut down and be reduced to a “skeleton” in the near future, said Court Administrator Nathan Graves.

“When it hits, there’s really no reason for people to come into the building,” Graves said.

By law, there are certain things that must take place no matter what — such as protective orders, hearings within 48 hours after people are brought into the jails, and other situations.

“What we’re now talking about is: what does a skeleton crew look like?” Graves said. “That’s really the longer range plan — which I don’t actually think will be that long range.”

Just today, Graves and the court leaders learned that Jackson County courts, the 16th district, has done just that.

At the press conference, Burlison said jurors who are showing signs of illness will be asked to go home. He also said people can call and reschedule their jury duty if they are feeling sick, as they’ve always been able to do. However, Jackson County has suspended the impaneling of all jurors for the weeks of March 16 and March 23. All jury trials scheduled for the weeks of March 16 and March 23 will be rescheduled to a later date.

Graves is also concerned that the juvenile detention center, which currently has 27 youth, does not currently have any way to test the children detained if they are suspected of having the virus. They don’t have any tests, he said, and they don’t have any control of getting the tests. For now, the medical contractor for the detention center, Corizon, is monitoring symptoms. They are also verbally screening visitors to make sure they haven’t been near anyone with symptoms or have traveled to certain countries. The St. Louis Justice Center and Medium Security Institution (known as the Workhouse) likely follows the same procedures because Corizon also handles their medical care, he said.

Though they’d like to do more testing for both inmates and their employees, they can’t, Graves said.

When asked if Burlison would take action to release inmates to prevent spread of infection, as countries including Iran have done, Graves said that, “it’s a possibility.” First, Burlison would have to hold a special hearing. Yesterday, the Washington Supreme Court issued an order suspending the court rules, allowing the local presiding judges to modify court operations. The Missouri Supreme Court would have to do the same.

“That would allow those kinds of creative things that we are going to have to do,” Graves said, including potentially categorizing inmates by risk and letting lower-risk inmates out on GPS.

As far as juvenile detention, the 13th Circuit, which is Boone County, are now down only two kids because they have taken such measures. Mayor Lyda Krewson has called a meeting with all department heads for the morning of March 13, so Graves said things could change even before then.

“There’s been a flurry of activity today,” Graves said. “These are amazingly complex problems.”

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