MERIDEN — The Judicial Branch says the Meriden courthouse is expected to resume some operations starting July 20, four months after it closed due to the coronavirus.
Meriden Superior Court is among eight courthouses to open in this next round. Cases at the Meriden courthouse were transferred to New Haven court around March 19, as the Judicial Branch tried to limit the spread of the coronavirus by suspending some courthouse operations.
Judicial Branch spokesperson Rhonda Hebert said Meriden will hear the same type of cases that other open courts are. This includes “an expansive range of civil, criminal, family and juvenile proceedings” which are being processed both remotely and in person.
In June, the branch said civil pretrials, status conferences, and trial management conferences would be conducted remotely. Family court was meant to start videoconferencing matters that were not expected to exceed one hour and various other matters remotely.
Criminal courts are using video conferencing to allow for social distancing during arraignments, according to the Judicial Branch. Defendants, attorneys, public defenders and bail staff are able to appear in person before the court or remotely via video conference to present information.
Herbert said the scope of operations continues to expand.
Judicial Branch officials are also currently attempting to develop strategies to safely resume jury trials in courthouses. A residential eviction moratorium from the governor until Aug. 25 prevents residential eviction matters from currently being processed by the courts.
When the pandemic hit in March, courts began only handling cases considered top priority — “Priority 1 business.”
The Judicial Branch at the time also closed the majority of smaller courthouses with lower case volume, including Meriden, and transferred Priority 1 business to courts in larger locales, with cases from Meriden being moved to New Haven, one of six superior courts left open. Priority 1 business includes criminal arraignments and domestic violence arraignments, juvenile detention hearings, family orders of relief from abuse, civil orders of relief from abuse, civil protection orders and orders of temporary custody.
The branch hopes that with 25 courts back in operation by the end of the month, backlogs will be alleviated, according to a statement.
Anyone entering the courthouse is required to wear a face mask covering their mouth and nose. The number of people allowed into the courthouse facilities may be limited “to allow for adequate social distancing,” according to the Judicial Branch.
“We continue to expand the ability of the Judicial Branch to resolve matters brought before it, both physically within our courthouses and by use of remote technology. We are simultaneously doing all we are able to do to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus and protect the health and safety of the public, the bar, and our employees and judges,” Chief Court Administrator Judge Patrick L. Carroll III said in a statement.
An attorney recently sued the Judicial Branch, challenging that the branch’s policies violated the plaintiffs’ due process rights.
Bridgeport-based attorney Robert Berke claims Carroll, the branch’s top decision maker, “hasn’t fulfilled his statutory charge of ensuring the prompt disposition of cases and the proper administration of judicial business” since the pandemic hit in March.
The lawsuit argues Connecticut’s court system has lagged behind the federal system and other state systems in using video conferencing to conduct criminal matters. It also claims the Judicial Branch has given deference to civil proceedings by allowing remote pre-trials and status conferences to be held for civil cases first. Remote pretrials, status conferences, and trial management conferences began for civil cases on May 18, three weeks before remote pretrials began for criminal cases.
Open courthouses will operate on extended hours starting July 6, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, according to the Judicial Branch. The Meriden courthouse will open with these hours.