The Justice Files: Coronavirus forces delayed justice

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) – Mondays are one of the busiest days for the Utah courts. But not this Monday after Chief Justice Matthew Durrant issued an order that restricts court hearings and services during the Covid-19 outbreak.

“To be clear the courts will continue to operate and provide mission-essential functions such as proceedings involving in-custody defendants and protective orders to name a few,” the chief justice said in his order. “Using technology we will continue to find ways to serve the public while reducing the number of people who need to physically come to court.”

The order meant essential cases like child abuse or domestic violence related issues will still be held.

A spokesman for the court elaborated on hearings considered essential.

“The essential hearings are anything that involves in custody inmates, anything that involves the appointment of bail, anything that involves sentencing, where there involves a constitutional right to a speedy trial,” said Geoff Fattah, a spokesman for the court.

Blake Baxter arrived to file papers with the clerk which will remain open for business.

“I think it makes sense because the community spread and our health is more important than our personal problems,” said Baxter.

But, not everyone learned of the cancellation order before arriving to the courthouse. Gordon Gray Sr.’s daughter’s hearing was cancelled.

“I think there should have been more clarity what was going on,” said Gray Sr. “Family members are involved in this thing too you know.”

Some attorneys anticipate problems once the order’s lifted.

“It’s going to make it horrible because all the trials that are going to be pushed back now are only simply going to push back the trials that are later set,” said attorney Rudy Batista who does support the order. “(But) it’s going to delay justice for a lot of people.”

For those hearings considered essential the seating inside the courtroom will be restricted. John Archuleta was told to wait outside the courtroom.

“I have to wait outside because of the Coronavirus,” Archuleta said. “It’s really unpleasant because you don’t exactly know what’s going on so we have to hear it second hand.”

Workers in the court system are also taking precautions. Somewere wearing masks as they went about with their duties.

Rex Taylor was also wearing a mask as he entered the Matheson courthouse for his son’s bail hearing. Taylor said he is going against his doctor’s orders.

“(Doctor) said I should stay at home,” Taylor said. “I need to be here for (my son).”

Fattah said there is no date set as to when the court order will be lifted. But any updates can be followed on the court’s website.

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