The Rock County Courthouse will reopen with restrictions to prevent the potential spread of the new coronavirus under a plan announced Tuesday by the Rock County Board of Judges.
The reopening plan was developed after a month of deliberation among all levels of county judicial and administrative staff as part of a task force aimed at reopening the courthouse at 51 S. Main St.
No specific dates for any of the phases of the reopening plan were mentioned in the announcement.
The proposed plan calls for increased sanitation, health screening and containment protocols. It also offers details about how in-person court hearings could be conducted. Signs encouraging hand hygiene and physical distancing will be put in place as part of the proposal.
Everyone present in courtrooms and in other court-related confined spaces will be required to wear face masks unless a judge determines it necessary not to wear a mask, with the proposal referencing a May 22 order by the Supreme Court of Wisconsin for guidance regarding masking.
Under the four-phase plan, Rock County judges would continue conducting proceedings remotely via teleconference. Those would be available on YouTube for public access. Under all phases, links to teleconference meetings would be provided via YouTube.
Before in-person hearings start again, signs for physical distancing, enhanced barriers, added equipment installations including air purifying equipment and entryway health screening must be in place, the plan said.
Phase one, which the court is currently in, allows for no in-person hearings unless approved by Chief Judge Daniel Dillon. A separate plan for addressing jury trials will follow Tuesday’s announcement, according to the proposal.
Under phase two, the courthouse would still conduct most hearings remotely. Certain court actions, including plea and sentencing hearings, juvenile case proceedings, injunction hearings, certain family court matters and mental commitment hearings would be allowed in person. All other court appearances would still take place via teleconference.
Phase three would allow all hearings to be conducted in person, but the use of remote or hybrid hearings “is still encouraged.” Any party would be able to request to appear by video or telephone conference, and judges would be instructed to grant those requests “whenever possible.”
This phase would be the first to allow in-person court attendance for the public, but livestreaming of hearings online would continue.
Phase four is the most open, with the plan only allowing remote hearings or remote participation after statutory review. Defendants who are in custody would appear remotely for initial appearances, preliminary hearings, status conferences, extradition hearings and calendar calls.
Dillon could not be reached for comment as of press time Tuesday.