Highland County Court Issues New Operating Orders

Due to the orders of the Ohio Department of Health regarding the Covid-19 Pandemic and the need for persons to remain at home as much as possible and to avoid congregating in groups due to the extreme risks of spreading the Covid-19 virus, and due to the recommendations of the Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court that trial court take measures to minimize the physical appearance at court of persons as set forth in the attached “Guidance to Local Courts”, the Court hereby makes the following findings:

1. The current Covid-19 Pandemic presents an extreme risk to all persons that may appear at court during normal operations.

2. The Governor and Director of the Ohio Department of Health have issued various orders to minimize contact between persons during the pandemic including a “Stay at Home” order effective at midnight, March 23, 2020.

3. The Chief Justice has issued “Guidance to Local Courts” that encourage trial courts to take measures to protect the safety of all persons that may be involved in cases.

4. Modification of Court operations is necessary to protect the safety of the parties to court cases, attorneys, witnesses, victims, court personnel, Clerk of Courts staff, law enforcement personnel and the public with the goal being to minimize the presence of people coming to the Common Pleas Court General and Domestic Relations Divisions as well as the Clerk of Courts Office.

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THEREFORE, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED AS FOLLOWS:

CRIMINAL CASES

1. All jury trials set up to April 27, 2020 shall be continued. The findings in this order constitute good cause for extending the speedy trial limits in criminal cases pursuant to R.C. 2945.72(H) and a copy of this order shall be filed in each case that is continued because of this order.

2. The Grand Jury session for April is cancelled. This order constitutes good cause for purposes of extending the 60 day time deadline to present cases that have been bound over to the Grand Jury for consideration to the next Grand Jury session date. The findings in this order constitute good cause shown for extending the speedy trial limits in criminal cases pursuant to R.C. 2945.72(H) and the Prosecuting Attorney shall file a copy of this entry in each case that is not presented within 60 days of the bind over date if such cases are not dismissed.

3. All pre-trials and final pre-trials in criminal cases set through April 27, 2020 shall be conducted by video if the Defendant is incarcerated.

4. All pre-trials and final pre-trials in criminal cases in which the Defendant is not incarcerated shall be continued until May of 2020. New assignment notices shall be issued as soon as possible.

5. All sentencings for defendants that are not incarcerated shall be continued into May of 2020. Sentencing for those defendants who are incarcerated shall proceed but at the request of the defendant may be conducted by video.

6. Any case continued due to this order shall be considered inactive for purposes of the time guidelines of the Ohio Supreme Court but all orders in the case shall remain in effect and the parties shall continue with discovery and motion practice.

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CIVIL CASES

1. All pre-trials and pre-trial motion hearings shall be converted to telephone conferences to be arranged by the Plaintiffs unless otherwise agreed by counsel or ordered by the Judge. If telephone conferences are not feasible due to the stay home orders or other recommendations of public authorities or other circumstances bearing upon a person’s health or safety, upon written request, the proceeding shall be continued.

2. All final hearings and trials scheduled for the remainder of March and April shall be continued.

3. Any case continued due to this order shall be considered inactive for purposes of the time guidelines of the Ohio Supreme Court but all orders in the case shall remain in effect and the parties shall continue with discovery and motion practice. However, if depositions, independent medical examinations or other person to person meetings are necessary, the Court shall grant time extensions as appropriate upon written request.

4. All post-judgment proceedings such as garnishments, debtor’s exams, contempt hearings etc. scheduled for the remainder of March and April shall be continued.

5. Foreclosure cases may proceed to judgment in the case and proceed with orders of sale, however, the Sheriff will not proceed to enforce any order of possession in said orders of sale until further order of the Court.

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DOMESTIC RELATIONS CASES

1. All pre-trials, settlement conferences, and other pre-trial/final hearing proceedings shall be converted to telephone hearings to be arranged by plaintiff’s counsel unless otherwise agreed or ordered by the Judge or Magistrate. If telephone conferences are not feasible due to the stay home orders or other recommendations of public authorities or other circumstances bearing upon a person’s health or safety, upon written request, the proceeding shall be continued.

2. All final hearings for divorces and dissolutions scheduled for the rest of March and April shall be continued. If continuance of a dissolution due to this order will prevent a hearing from being conducted within the ninety days provided by law which will result in a lack of jurisdiction , requiring dismissal without prejudice, the parties may within sixty days, refile the same petition in the same case number without payment of any additional deposit and all other documents filed shall be deemed filed with the refiled petition. If the petition is not refiled withing sixty days, then the case will be deemed closed.

3. Any case continued due to this order shall be considered inactive for purposes of the time guidelines of the Ohio Supreme Court but all orders in the case shall remain in effect and the parties shall continue with discovery and motion practice. If face to face meetings such as depositions or evaluations are necessary, the Court will grant extensions of any deadlines as in the case scheduling orders as appropriate.

4. In camera interviews of children scheduled for March and April shall be continued.

5. Hearings on petitions for ex parte Civil Protection/Civil Anti-Stalking and final hearings on ex parte orders granted shall be heard as provided by law subject to the prior restrictions previously ordered by the Court regarding those who may be present for the hearings. If both parties agree, the final hearing shall be continued.

6. Motions in new or currently open cases requesting allocation of parental rights or modification of a prior order allocating parental rights in which the health or safety of the children are in issue shall be heard subject to the prior restrictions previously ordered by the Court regarding those who may be present for the hearings.

7. Other motions requesting immediate relief to protect parties, children or property may be heard as deemed necessary by the Court based upon the circumstances of that case, but may be conducted telephonically as determined appropriate by the Court.

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COURT STAFFING DURING PANDEMIC

1. No more than two staff will work at the Court offices starting Tuesday, March 24, 2020. Staff that do not have any symptoms of Covid-19 shall alternate workdays.

2. Starting Monday, March 30, 2020, only one staff person shall work at the Court offices. The three full-time staff members shall alternate workdays. Those not present will work remotely as the court network permits including responding to emails, preparing notices and orders etc.

3. The Judge and Magistrate will work from home also, but shall be available to conduct hearings as provided in this order at any time if not present at the courthouse. They will also work in the office to review pleadings, orders and other matters requiring approval from the Court.

4. The public is urged to contact the Court or the Clerk of Courts during regular business hours by telephone or by email rather than coming to the Courthouse in person. The doors to offices of the Court and the Clerk of Courts may be locked to prevent persons from entering to minimize contact with staff.

5. The Clerk of Courts is authorized to reduce staffing in that office during normal business hours.

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