Technology grants come to local courts for telework, social distancing

Carol M. Highsmith [Public domain, Wikimedia Commons]

The Ohio Supreme Court is releasing millions of dollars in “remote technology grants” for courts as they continue to navigate the judicial system amid coronavirus prevention.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor said the $6 million would be distributed to 277 courts in almost all Ohio counties.

The money comes as courts are adapting to continuing court proceedings as they can, with telework for employees, limited building access and pushing off jury trials.

Guidance from the court asked judges, lawyers and the public to “leverage technology” like video conferences, web-based meeting platforms and the telephone to hold hearings, arraignments, pre-trial conferences, probation meetings and mediations, among others.

“Judges have told me that new equipment they are receiving has changed the way they can do business — not just during this crisis, but going forward when we return to normal,” O’Connor said in a release.

Courts have been encouraging the public to use online resources as much as possible as the stay-at-home order continues. The grant funding is to be used to “make accommodations under the continuing COVID-19 public health emergency,” according to the court.

Guidance from the state’s high court has emphasized the use of social distancing, wearing masks and proper cleaning of courthouses and offices. The courts have also been told to allow the fear of COVID-19 to be treated as a “legitimate excuse” for potential jurors in cases.

“A person should not have to risk their health to comply with a jury summons,” the guidance stated.

The courts also recommended recognizance bonds, or bonds that allow the person’s release on the promise that the person will return to court, “unless there is clear and convincing evidence that recognizance release would present a substantial risk of harm.”

O’Connor said “only time will tell” how long the courts would need to keep the protocols in place.