Courts during COVID-19

Buchanan County Presiding Judge Dan Kellogg puts a defendant under oath in an online meeting Tuesday.

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The Missouri Supreme Court recently extended an order banning certain in-person hearings through April 17, forcing local courts to adapt in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This week in what would normally be a bustling courtroom, Presiding Judge Dan Kellogg’s courtroom was nearly silent.

“On a normal criminal docket, we might have 10 to 20 cases set in any type of half-hour period or something like that,” Kellogg said. “And so, the gallery would be full of either people who are out on bond or family members or victims, the jury box would be for defendants and the counsel tables would be for attorneys.”

Instead of attorneys appearing in person, they joined an online meeting alongside their defendants. The only people in the room: A deputy, Kellogg, two court staffers and a News-Press NOW reporter.

The Buchanan County Courthouse building is closed, following an order from the Buchanan County Commission. However, the Missouri Supreme Court has ruled certain judicial cases must still be heard, with specialty cases to be heard in person.

In order to access the courthouse, patrons need to call the office they have business with.

“We tried to make clear that the courts are going on regardless of this. There are certain cases, however, that we are not doing in person at all,” Kellogg said.

Proceedings that must still occur in person include protection orders, cases involving COVID-19 and emergency health orders. The full list of exempt proceedings can be found on the Missouri Supreme Court’s website.

The court’s order also suspended any local rules that would prohibit technology to be used in the courtroom by judges. Even if hearings are held in person, the court ruled they can be held without spectators.

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