Face coverings will be required for anyone who enters Koochiching County District Court, based on a state mandate that starts Monday.
Patti Bolstad, court operations supervisor for Koochiching County Court Administration, said the order issued by Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie S. Gildea will be enforced as part of the Judicial Branch COVID-19 Preparedness Plan. The plan, which is available to the public, will be updated to reflect the order.
“If you do not have a face covering of if you have a medical condition that prevents you from wearing a face covering we ask that you talk to our court staff,” urged Bolstad. “Koochiching County Court Administration will provide face masks to those who do not have one and we will do our best to distance those who cannot medically wear a mask and try to provide alternate measures to allow them to attend hearings if needed.”
“Requiring face coverings to be worn in court facilities when physical distance requirements cannot be maintained will contribute to the administration of justice by allowing the Judicial Branch to continue to safely and methodically expand court services and in-person court proceedings while implementing uniform safety measures in all court facilities,” said Gildea in a statement.
Meanwhile, Koochiching is not among the counties approved yet to conduct criminal jury trials, Bolstad said.
The Judicial Council approved a statewide plan in which each district court will be required to complete and submit a jury trial restart application, she said. The application will detail the steps the court has taken to adhere to the necessary health and safety protocols and the application must be reviewed and approved before the court can resume holding any jury trials
Courts can, since July 6, resume criminal jury trials once the county’s application has been approved. Each county must complete the application and approval process no later than Sept. 1, Bolstad said.
Koochiching County has not yet submitted a plan.
“Koochiching County’s issue at this time is where we could hold a jury trial and comply with the social distancing to allow for the safety of the jurors as well as all participants of a trial,” she described. “Our courtroom size and court facilities do not allow for the health and safety protocols to be followed under the pandemic guidelines to hold a criminal jury trial at this time. We have discussed using space outside the courthouse, but this is all a work in progress and is ongoing at this time.”
The order relating to face coverings comes following the June 2 national public opinion survey conducted by the National Center for State Courts, which found that 70 percent of respondents would be more comfortable in a court facility where masks were required for employees and visitors.
The Minnesota Judicial Branch continues to be in a transitional phase, as established by orders. A May 28, order reopened court facilities on a limited basis for additional in-person access. Some counties may require appointments for public counter or public access terminal access. Local court facilities may continue to have additional conditions for entry.
Before visiting a court facility, court users should visit the Safe Reopening webpage to learn more about local court facility access and to review the updated Minnesota Judicial Branch COVID-19 Preparedness Plan. Visitors are asked to self-screen for symptoms or exposure before entering a court facility. People exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, or who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 within 14 days of when they need to enter a court facility, are asked to contact the court or their attorney, rather than come to the courthouse. Symptoms to self-screen for: chills, cough, muscle pain, sore throat, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fever of 100.4 degrees or higher, or new loss of taste or smell.
About the Minnesota Judiciary
The Minnesota Judicial Branch is made up of 10 judicial districts with 295 district court judgeships, 19 Court of Appeals judges, and seven Supreme Court justices. The Judicial Branch is governed by the Judicial Council, which is chaired by Gildea, chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court. The Minnesota Judicial Branch is mandated by the Minnesota Constitution to resolve disputes promptly and without delay. In 2019, there were nearly 1.2 million cases filed in district courts in Minnesota. For more information visit www.mncourts.gov.