Pima County Superior Court: Essential services continue during COVID-19
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Pima County Superior Court: Essential services continue during COVID-19

The following is the analysis and opinion of the writers:

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Arizona Superior Court in Pima County remains open on a limited basis, providing essential services and conducting crucial hearings, but has restricted in-person contact whenever possible.

Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Brutinel, following Gov. Doug Ducey’s declaration of emergency in March, issued administrative orders directing all Arizona courts to conduct business in a manner that reduces the risk associated with the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Pima County Superior Court issued administrative orders addressing localized concerns and issues. Those administrative orders can be found on the court’s website (sc.pima.gov).

In line with the administrative orders, all in-person proceedings have been postponed through June 1, except matters required by law to be conducted within specified timelines.

These matters include proceedings for persons held in custody, such as initial appearances, arraignments, preliminary hearings, in-custody probation violations, and conditions of release.

In addition, the following are also being conducted in a timely manner, in most cases by video or teleconference to avoid personal contact: domestic violence protective proceedings; child protection temporary custody proceedings; mental health civil commitment hearings and reviews; emergency protection of elderly or vulnerable person proceedings; habeas corpus proceedings; COVID-19 public health emergency proceedings; juvenile detention hearings; election cases and other proceedings necessary to determine whether to grant emergency relief.

Additionally, and to further safeguard public health, the court is scheduling no new jury trials through at least June 1.

Superior Court has worked closely with all local and state justice partners to handle essential matters while reducing health risks. Pima County is fortunate to have a justice community that can work together to appropriately cooperate in efforts to implement processes and procedures to deal with this emergency.

As we look forward to a return to more normal operations, the court is acting on several fronts. We created a Back to Operations Task Force nearly a month ago.

This task force, composed of judges, court personnel, and clerk of court staff, is charged with identifying what areas of the court will require the most immediate attention, and developing a plan to address those needs.

A similar committee has been established by the chief justice at the state level to assist the restart of all Arizona courts. We know family law matters, criminal matters, and certain juvenile law matters will be backlogged and need immediate attention. Civil law and probate matters are also being delayed and will be triaged to determine which require the most prompt response.

Throughout its return to operations, the court will continue to exercise social distancing practices among court staff, judges and the public as a safety precaution.

More than 200 of our 1,000 employees (including our 53 judicial officers) are currently working remotely, and the court will continue to limit the number of people, including staff, in the courthouse at any given time.

Thanks to Pima County Facilities Management, efforts are underway to deep clean all public areas of the Superior Courthouse, including its jury rooms and courtrooms. Offices outside of the courthouse, including those at Conciliation Court, Probation, Pretrial Services (both downtown and at the Adult Detention Center) as well as the Juvenile Court Center’s courtrooms, offices and detention center, are also being thoroughly cleaned and disinfected during this time.

Superior Court always strives to provide a secure, healthy and accessible environment. As the public begins to access court services in the future, we will continue to do everything possible to ensure that the environment is safe and sound, and, to the greatest extent possible, alleviate risk to both court users and its employees.

Kyle A. Bryson is the presiding judge and Ronald G. Overholt is court administrator of Pima County Superior Court.

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