Courts, DA's office closed to public, work still in progress

Becky Campbell • Mar 16, 2020 at 8:21 PM

Emergency responders in the area have implemented common-sense precautions suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in response to COVID-19.

“As we sit right now, there is no change how we conduct business except a heightened awareness,” said Capt. Brian Rice, acting operations major at the Johnson City Police Department. “It’s a continually evolving event, and we will modify plans or leave them as they are as needed.”

Rice said the public doesn’t need to worry about officers responding to calls for service.

Washington County/Johnson City EMS Capt. Mike Skowronski said paramedics are also using precautions when responding to emergency calls and depend on 911 operators to screen medical calls to determine if it could be COVID-19 related.

“911 will be doing prescreening just as they do with any call,” Skowronski said. If necessary, responding medics have the personal protection equipment needed to prevent being contaminated by the virus.

“A lot of it is being proactive,” he said, and that starts with any 911 call.

Area courthouses have implemented more strict precautions, limiting people who want to go in to those needing to conduct court business. Courthouse doors in the district are being guarded and officers will determine if people are there to access court services.

In addition to the courthouses, the District Attorney General Offices throughout the First Judicial District — Washington, Carter, Unicoi and Johnson counties — are closed to in-person visits from the public. District Attorney General Ken Baldwin said the closure was to ensure his employees and the people they deal with on a daily basis remain safe.

“This is an effort to protect victims, officers, attorneys, citizens and my staff from contracting this virus and doing my part to keep out communities safe,” Baldwin said in a press release.

Much of what the court system has implemented came from a Tennessee Supreme Court order issued Friday. In that order, the court spelled out guidelines for judges, but also gave them discretion on what type of hearings should be conducted.

Judges in Washington, Carter, Unicoi and Johnson counties were conducting arraignments and hearings as needed.

“The courts can’t close,” said  Barbara Peck, communications director for the Administrative Office of the Courts. “There are in-person court proceedings,” as well as video court where possible, but there will be no jury trials conducted until the limited activity ban is over.

“We’re trying to give the judges some flexibility,” she said.

For now, the ban implemented by the Supreme Court is in place through March 31. Any orders or deadlines set to expire between now and March 31 are extended to April 6. Anyone who needs to speak to the district attorney general’s office can call the Jonesborough office at 753-5020.




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