Douglas County judges utilize new locations to hold hearings
From conference calls to Zoom hearings, judges are getting creative while social distancing guidelines are in place.
Court hearings continue to take place in Douglas County during the public health emergency, although some are taking place in different spaces.
Defendants in custody appear before judges in the Doug Finn Room of the Government Center. Initially intended to be a secure courtroom before funds ran out, the space has a door directly to the jail, which offers people in custody the least amount of contact with the outside.
“We certainly don’t want to get anybody in the jail sick. That would not be a good situation,” said Circuit Court Judge Kelly Thimm.
Other hearings take place in regular courtrooms via conference calls, and some judges have held court virtually over the Zoom video conferencing tool.
“We're trying to do things, be creative, utilize these software programs to do as many hearings as we can,” Thimm said.
Jury trials have been postponed through June 1 per an emergency order. Essential court hearings, including bail hearings for arrested individuals, criminal court proceedings for defendants in custody, emergency detention hearings, guardianship, protective placement hearings and restraining order hearings have continued.
As judges utilize a variety of options, more cases are being heard.
“At first a lot was being pushed back,” Thimm said. “But as we’ve adapted and talked to litigants and attorneys, we’ve tried to make arrangements to hold as many hearings as we can. We’re still trying to figure out things we can do effectively to promote justice.”
He has held many Zoom meetings, but only a few hearings through the app. It’s been a learning curve, Thimm said, and he gave credit to the state and Douglas County’s IT department for their work on enhancing socially distant courtroom options.
“We are still in session,” Thimm said. “We’re getting proceedings done as efficiently as possible under the circumstances.”
The courthouse is open during limited hours for people to file or pay fines, 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and 1-3 p.m. Hearings that had been open to the public remain open, but those planning to attend should contact the Clerk of Courts office, 715-395-1203, or the judge’s office ahead of time.
Anyone with a court date is asked to call the clerk’s office or check the Wisconsin CCAP system before coming in, as court dates can be fluid.