The Justice Files: Justice court avoids quarantine after learning of positive test for COVID-19

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) – Someone who tested positive for the coronavirus may have come into a justice courtroom.

That’s according to Salt Lake’s justice court judge, Clemons Landau.

But he said they were unaware of the situation until after the 14-day exposure to the virus. 

“We were notified about 16-17 days after she was in the courtroom,” Landau said in a text to ABC4. “So we didn’t do any additional testing.  (We) just notified our agency partners and (Salt Lake) City.”

It’s an example why the court have reacted to the shelter-in-place order and basically stopped all court hearings not considered essential.

Ever since COVID-19 struck Utah state and justice courts have been practicing social distancing while attempting to serve justice.  The Utah Supreme Court, like the lower courts, is utilizing video conference to hear those cases.

Everyone’s isolated but the technology allows participation as if they were inside a court room.

“This is our effort to hear critical cases during the course of this pandemic,” said Chief Justice Matthew Durrant during a recent video conference prior to the beginning of a scheduled case.

It was the chief justice who in early March ordered all Utah courts to shelter in place.

Video conferences with the court of appeals are scheduled through May.

“Quite honestly had we skipped three months worth and started fresh in July which would have been the alternative we would have had a significant number of cases where justice delayed would have been justice denied,” said Judge Gregory Orme with the court of appeals.

Outside the Salt Lake Justice Court is a RV. It’s a the temporary courtroom.

“It doesn’t feel like a real courtroom but it does everything a real courtroom needs to do and it can do it safely,” said Judge Landau.

He said the Salt Lake City police brought the RV out of storage and the justice court to use it. Judge Landau said it allows the court to keep smaller gatherings and better use of social distancing.

They already were using the RV when they were alerted about the person who contracted corona virus.

“Had we known about it earlier we would have had a situation where we would have have to backtrack everyone that was in that room, everyone that was in the room the next day and it would have been more of a project to piece it back together,” the judge said.

He said they weren’t tested because the exposure was over 14 days and no one experienced any symptoms.

As for the video conferences, it may be a sign of the future.

“I think after this going forward we will probably just schedule some remotely to save lawyers the time and trouble and more importantly their clients, the attorney’s fees,” Judge Orme said. “It’s not as good as the courtroom but it’s good enough that we can make good uses going forward.”

He said there were minor glitches during practice runs but it is now running smoothly.  He did point out the need to keep court etiquette during these video conferences even for himself.  During one practice session a clerk noticed something behind Judge Orme.

“(She said) ‘oh she’s cute,'” recalled the judge. “I had no idea what that pertained to until I realized my cat had climbed up on the couch behind me and was looking into the screen.”

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