December 1, 2020, update from Court

From Katie Woodside, Assistant Court Administrator, Hamilton County Juvenile Court

As the COVID-19 numbers continue to rise in Hamilton County, we are all busier than ever balancing our important work with increased employee absences due to illness, quarantine, etc.  We had originally planned to schedule a dependency operations meeting this week or next, but with these additional challenges and the upcoming holidays, we thought it would be more helpful to send out this information and invite folks to provide feedback to the group or to the Court at their convenience.

Our Court has consulted frequently with the professionals at Hamilton County Public Health (HCPH) regarding COVID protocols and specific situations. We remain committed to working with HCPH to ensure we’re following best practices on an ongoing basis.

Our Court has taken many actions to effectively address COVID. Here are just a few highlights of ongoing efforts:

  • Taking temperature checks prior to entry in the building; Those with a temperature of 100.4 or greater are not allowed entry;
  • Requiring masks for those who are in the building, unless they are working alone, in their own, enclosed office;
  • Requiring social distancing within the CDC’s protocols. It defines close contact as being closer than 6 feet together for more than 15 minutes. Although people may need to be closer than 6 feet to each other momentarily (to exchange documents, for example) we’re requiring and following social distancing standards to avoid close contact;
  • Cleaning high-touch areas regularly, throughout the day;
  • Providing hand sanitizer in various work areas;
  • Allowing remote hearing access to minimize the amount of in-person contact that people have with each other, and encouraging ;
  • Posted CDC informational posters in the workplace, to enable people to review information and guidelines;
  • Added plexiglass dividers where feasible, to minimize the spread of germs;
  • Placed markings on the floor in some public waiting areas, to show people where to stand to be six feet apart;
  • Restricted elevators to a maximum of two people at a time; (If other individuals are not following that standard, it’s acceptable to ask them to wait for the next elevator or for you to wait until the next elevator.)
  • We will continue to prioritize shelter care and time sensitive issues if the need to restrict operations arises.

Contact Tracing at 800 Broadway

When we are notified that a person has been in our building and has tested positive for COVID-19, we immediately begin contact tracing.  We speak to any relevant employees and professionals, in addition to reviewing any security or hearing videos that are available.  This contact tracing has traditionally shown that we are all doing a good job following protocols. Seldom do people actually meet the close contact standard. The CDC defines Close Contact as, “Anyone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for a total of 15 minutes or more. An infected person can spread COVID-19 starting from 48 hours (or 2 days) before the person has any symptoms or tests positive for COVID-19.”

If any person is identified as a close contact through contact tracing, we take efforts to immediately notify that person and/or their supervisor.

1st and 6th Floor Courtrooms

We have received feedback from a few of you that the 6th floor courtrooms and sometimes the overflow courtroom (104) on the first floor become crowded and social distancing can be an issue.  Thank you for bringing this to our attention.  We have taken a few actions related to this issue:

  • We reminded both the Magistrates and Case Management staff to ensure proper social distancing is possible for every hearing.
  • We make every effort to schedule hearings in courtrooms with enough space based on the number of people expected to attend.
  • Additional plexiglass barriers and partitions have been added to the courtrooms on the 6th floor

We would also request your assistance in ensuring we are conducting in-person hearings safely.  If you or members of your staff are in a Courtroom where social distancing does not appear possible with the number of people present, please alert the case manager or Magistrate.  Please ask your clients to limit their guests at in-person hearings, and please ask your witnesses to remain on call, outside the building until their presence is necessary.  As always, you can also reach out to me, Mark Reed or Carla Guenthner with any concerns.

All of these efforts should help ensure in-person hearings can continue to occur, and occur in a safe, healthy manner.

Additional Hearing Space/Docketing

We are adding in-person trial space on the 16th floor.  The hope is that the space will be used for additional in-person dependency trials, and we hope to have it set up and running within the next couple of weeks.  We continue to use courtrooms 101, 615 and the legal clinic for in-person hearings.  We have also encouraged Magistrates to expand contested hearings to include more Zoom, if parties consent and it is appropriate, and conduct more thorough and comprehensive communication in advance of in-person hearings to limit the number of people in the building.

Holiday Dockets

In planning for the upcoming holidays, both Christmas Day and New Year’s Day are Fridays this year.  Judge Williams and Judge Powers have given our staff a personal holiday on December 24, 2020, so there will be no Day 1 docket on December 24th or December 25th.  The holiday docket will be held on Saturday, December 26, 2020.  The New Year holiday docket will be held on Saturday, January 2, 2021.  The holiday dockets will follow the same format we followed for the Thanksgiving docket.  An email with Zoom and Magistrate information for these dockets will be sent later this month.

Finally, our Court will continue to consult with the experts and work with partners to develop protocols and responses, as situations arise and needs change.  Many of you have reached out with suggestions and concerns, which have improved our efforts to keep everyone safe and healthy.  We so appreciate your input and assistance.