Criminal Justice

Frigid temps shut lawyers out of courthouses, prompt escaped inmate to turn himself in

How cold was it this week? So cold that at least one escaped inmate turned himself in to escape the arctic air.

After escaping a minimum security facility in Lexington, Ky., on Sunday, Robert Vick, 42, asked a motel desk clerk to call authorities on Monday as temperatures in Kentucky reached low single digits, the Associated Press reports. He was treated for hypothermia before being returned to the Blackburn Correctional Complex.

And in Chicago, where the city posted a low temperature of minus 16 degrees Monday, inmates who were officially scheduled for release are being allowed to stay in the Cook County jail voluntarily until the weather improves if they don’t have transportation or a home to go to, the Southtown Star reports.

Lawyers and others were shut out of courthouses in many states as the facilities either closed or suffered from weather-related issues.

“It wasn’t just the snow or just the wind or just the cold, it was all three,” said Chief Circuit Court Judge Richard Schoenstedt, who closed a Will County courthouse in downtown Joliet, Ill., on Monday, fearing that workers and jurors would have trouble getting there for scheduled trials.

Joliet is on the southern outskirts of Chicago. A number of mass transit options were reduced or even eliminated in Chicago and surrounding counties, and multiple accidents occurred through the day due to icy conditions, according to the Southtown Star and WBBM. The American Bar Association’s Chicago office was also closed Monday.

In Toledo, Ohio, which set a record temperature of minus 15 degrees Monday, the Lucas County Courthouse is expected to remain closed until Wednesday, according to the Toledo Blade. Meanwhile, municipal courts were closed in Akron and Cleveland, WKYC reports.

Courts were also closed in other areas, including cities in Massachusetts; Detroit and multiple counties in Michigan; western New York; Pittsburgh; and Knoxville, Tenn., as record lows were logged in Cleveland, Detroit, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Charlotte, among other cities, according to USA Today. Details about court closings are provided by the Buffalo News, the News Sentinel, the Grand Rapids Press; the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Sun Chronicle, WXYZ and WZZM.

In Houston, only two of 12 elevators at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center were working on Tuesday morning, leaving workers, witnesses and attorneys waiting in long lines outside the building in near-freezing weather, some of the coldest in the city in years, until the problem was fixed around 11 a.m. It isn’t clear what caused the elevator issue, but the problem was exacerbated because the unusual amount of clothing worn due to the cold slowed security lines inside the courthouse, the Houston Chronicle reports.

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