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Protocols set for Wood County courts to reopen

PARKERSBURG — The Wood County Circuit, Magistrate and Family Courts are set to open back up to in-person hearings on Monday.

In the most recent order issued by the chief justice, the Supreme Court adopted protocols for the reopening of the courts to in-person hearings. In an effort to implement these protocols, several precautions will be in place, according to a press release issued by the Wood County Circuit Court.

The order of the Supreme Court requires that members of the public, attorneys, parties and witnesses must wear masks or face-coverings in the courtroom or judicial offices.

According to Magistrate Robin Waters with the Wood County Magistrate Court, masks will not be provided at the courts, and people are not allowed in without one.

“It is the responsibility of counsel to ensure that his or her clients and witnesses are aware of the mask requirements,” according to the press release.

According to the release, when addressing the court, counsel, or anyone directed to speak, may remove his/her mask.

While entering or exiting, in order to limit the potential spread of the coronavirus through exposure from touching surfaces, the door from the main lobby to the hallway outside the courtrooms will remain open at all times. The side door to the courtroom will be opened and closed only by the bailiff.

According to the release, if there are not sufficient seats outside of the courtroom that permit those waiting to observe the recommended social distancing requirements, then they should give their cellphone number to court staff and wait outside or in their vehicle until such time as their hearing is called. If waiting outside the courthouse, the release says they will be given a reasonable amount of time to enter the courtroom after being contacted.

Inside the court rooms, seats have been spaced out for attendees and counsel to adhere to social distancing requirements, and some rows have been roped off and will not be utilized. There are only two seats at the counsell area, but according to the release, other parties or individuals necessary to assist may be accommodated in other seating in the courtroom but will not be permitted at the counsel table.

The jury box has seats within the box and seat(s) directly in front of the box to maintain social distancing. Water pitchers and cups will not be provided at counsel tables, but according to the release, beverages can be brought into the courtroom.

For safety, counsel tables, doors and conference rooms, if used, will be cleaned after every hearing. This may result in a brief delay in being permitted to enter the courtroom.

“If you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or if you are not permitted to enter the Judicial Annex and are scheduled to appear for Court, please call that court’s office for further instruction,” according to the release.

Some remote appearances may continue to occur.

“If you wish to appear remotely, or if a client needs to appear remotely, you must notify the Court of your intention prior to the hearing. If you choose to appear remotely, it is your obligation to make sure that you have the ability to consult with any client who may be appearing from another location, whether that be in the court or elsewhere,” according to the release.

According to the release, if some individuals are appearing remotely and others are appearing in the courtroom, the court will broadcast the audio and video within the courtroom through the A/V cart both on the pull down screen and at each counsel table. Under such circumstances, the video being transmitted from the courtroom will be of the witness stand if evidence is being taken.

The courts will also permit the use of cellphones in the courtroom to consult with parties who may be appearing remotely.

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