Empty Courtroom

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The Kentucky Supreme Court has ordered the state's courts mostly shuttered until May 1 “in anticipation of a surge of COVID-19 cases,” according to a press release.

The courts have already been mostly shut down statewide since March 16 because of the pandemic, but Wednesday’s order contains additional restrictions, including barring most of the public and even attorneys from entering courthouses. 

As of today, almost all court hearings will be done remotely and courthouses will be closed “with limited exceptions,” according to the order. There will be signs outside the courthouse notifying those who are allowed to enter a courthouse.

Leigh Anne Hiatt, a spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of the Courts, said the exceptions, for the public, are people required to attend emergency, in-person hearings and those filing for protective orders. 

And civil and criminal dockets are being postponed except for hearings regarding domestic violence, emergency custody, in-custody arraignments and bond motions and a few others. Judges have the discretion to hold a hearing in a civil or criminal case if something "merits prompt attention," according to the order. 

People required to attend most hearings can do so remotely, according to the order. If required to be in court, only 10 people can attend. 

Even attorneys will be barred from the courthouse unless they have a hearing. Entry may be obtained by calling the local circuit clerk’s office, according to the order. 

If a person needs to post bond for someone, they will also need to contact the local circuit clerk’s office for instructions. 

Also, driver’s license services have been suspended until further notice. Expired driver's licenses have been extended for 90 days. 

In addition, eviction filings will not be accepted by the circuit court clerks until 30 days after the order expires, pursuant to state and federal moratoriums on evictions “and public health and safety concerns,” according to the order.

“I appreciate the hard work and determination of the public, the legal community and court personnel who are quickly adapting to these changes,” Chief Justice of Kentucky John D. Minton Jr. said in the press release. “As difficult as these restrictions may be, the Judicial Branch must do its part to practice stringent social distancing while providing essential, constitutionally mandated services. The health and safety of all of us depend on it.”

Minton first signed an order March 12 that shut down much of the day-to-day operations of courthouses to "protect the health and safety of court employees, elected officials and the general public." 

But, at the time, there were exceptions for motions for bond by inmates, evidentiary hearings in criminal cases and domestic violence hearings.

Just this past Saturday, a Jefferson district court judge held a special docket with prosecutors and defense attorneys to review motions to release more people on lower bonds and grant “shock” probation to defendants who have already been convicted and are serving time.

At the time, reporters were allowed to attend. 

This story may be updated. 

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Digital Reporter

Jason Riley is a criminal justice reporter for WDRB.com. He joined WDRB News in 2013 after 14 years with The Courier-Journal. He graduated from Western Kentucky University. Jason can be reached at 502-585-0823 and jriley@wdrb.com.