Courthouse officials announced Friday all in-court proceedings for Lewis and Clark and Broadwater counties will be limited until at least May 1 in an effort to help slow the transmission of the novel coronavirus sweeping through population centers.
The decision comes following an order handed down from the First Judicial District Court, which states, "It has become increasingly difficult for parties, counsel, court, clerk of court, pretrial services, probation and parole, and detention center staff to be present in the courtroom while at the same time strictly following public health recommendations relative to mitigating the virus and disease."
The order further states that the necessity of in-court proceedings is outweighed by the risks "associated with this pandemic."
As such, all criminal and civil jury trials scheduled to begin on or before May 1 have been vacated and will need to be reset by the presiding judge.
Nonjury trials and any other in-court appearances can be held "at the presiding judge's discretion," according to the order.
No defendants, counsel and witnesses who have been quarantined will be allowed to appear in court without the permission of that court.
A district court judge will preside over all preliminary criminal matters filed in district court, and such preceding's will be conducted by "telephonic or video means to the greatest extent possible" until further notice, the order states.
The order also includes a measure ensuring law enforcement agencies and judges will be notified "immediately" should anyone incarcerated at either Lewis and Clark County or Broadwater County detention centers test positive for COVID-19.
In total, the order lays out 19 limitations for both the Helena and Townsend courthouses, which will remain open at this time.
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