State supreme court bars judge from having in-person hearings in most cases because of coronavirus

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The Ohio Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a domestic relations judge in Medina County can’t have routine hearings in person because of COVID-19 concerns.

Judge Mary Kovack may still have hearings by telephone or video conference, but she cannot have in-person hearings in nonemergency cases, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled here and here.

Cleveland.com has coverage.

The court ruled on requests by lawyers David McArtor and Adam Thurman, who said they feared in-person hearings puts them, their clients, courtroom staff and others at risk.

McArtor and Thurman said Kovack wasn’t ruling on their continuance requests and leaving trial dates on the calendar. They also objected to her written policy requiring in-person hearings when a final telephone hearing did not produce a settlement. That resulted in a pressure to settle, they argued.

One dissenter, Justice Melody Stewart, said there is no evidence that Kovack has actually held in-person hearings in the lawyers’ cases, so the issue is not ripe for review.

A second dissenter, Justice Sharon Kennedy, noted that Kovack has taken several steps to deal with COVID-19. They include furloughing inmates, staying execution of outstanding warrants, formalizing courthouse sanitizing procedures, instituting social distancing at the courthouse, and instituting court-monitored virtual parenting time.

She is also rescheduling dissolution hearings one half-hour apart, so only one case at a time will be on-site at the courthouse. She considers cases to be essential when they can’t be resolved by phone. In addition, she has applied for a technology grant to eliminate nearly all in-person hearings.

Kovack is following guidance by the Ohio Supreme Court and the Ohio Department of Health, Kennedy said.

“Because Judge Kovack is doing everything the order requires and our guidance bulletin recommends, I would deny the motion for emergency stay,” Kennedy wrote.

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