State courts closing more buildings, reducing hours and limiting business due to coronavirus

The state Judicial Branch announced Thursday that it is closing three additional courthouses, and reducing hours and limiting entry into the ones that remain open, in a further attempt to balance the safety of the public and staff with constitutional obligations during the coronavirus pandemic.

The courthouse at Huntington Street in New London will remain the only open Judicial Branch facility in southeastern Connecticut, with limited hours on four out of the five workdays and entry restricted to those involved in "Priority One" cases. That includes those who are filing or have a hearing for temporary restraining orders, civil protection orders and ex parte motions for custody and those who are involved in a criminal arraignment or other criminal proceeding.

Chief Court Administrator Patrick L. Carroll III announced the changes as the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths continued to mount in Connecticut. As of Thursday, there were 1,012 confirmed cases of the virus, 125 people hospitalized and 21 deaths.

To date, four Judicial Branch employees have tested positive for COVID-19, including an adult probation officer from Stamford; a judicial marshal from Torrington, an officer from the Hartford detention center; and a clerk in Danbury, according to Rhonda Stearley-Hebert, program manager for communications for the branch.

Effective at the close of the business day Friday, the Judicial District courthouse in Torrington and lower-level "Geographical Area" courthouses in Rockville and Danielson will be closed until further notice. Litchfield cases will be heard in Waterbury, matters from Rockville will transfer to the GA 14 courthouse in Hartford; and matters from Danielson will transfer to the New London Judicial District courthouse at 70 Huntington St.

Effective Tuesday, March 31, until further notice, the remaining open courthouses and two juvenile courthouses in Hartford and Bridgeport will be open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., with staff leaving for the day at 2 p.m. Hours on Mondays will be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

"Chief Justice Richard A. Robinson and I fully recognize the disruption that these further steps will create," Carroll said in a news release. "However, the COVID-19 crisis is unlike any other crisis the Branch has weathered in my 24 years as a judge. Drastic steps must be taken to prevent drastic consequences, and we believe that such actions will help mitigate, rather than accelerate, this pandemic."

The branch had consolidated business into 13 courthouses, representing each Judicial District, on March 19, and limited business to "Priority One" functions. 

Court administrators closed the Danbury courthouse earlier this week after a clerk tested positive for the virus.

Also this week, the branch announced that judicial marshals assigned to transport prisoners between courthouses and correctional facilities will be screened for abnormally high temperatures. Prisoners who exhibit any symptoms of COVID-19 and have a fever will be screened by medical personnel prior to being taken to a correctional facility. If there is a question about a prisoner's health as it relates to the virus, the facility will be contacted prior to the prisoner being transported.

Staff who enter the juvenile facilities in Bridgeport and Hartford are being screened prior to entering the buildings.

k.florin@theday.com

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