Courts begin gradual reopening following COVID-19 closures

  • Clerks for the Franklin County Superior Court, Western Housing Court and Greenfield District Court work at the Franklin County Justice Center on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Though the Franklin County Justice Center in Greenfield began a gradual reopening on Monday, jury trials are still not being held. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Some of the in-person services at the Franklin County Justice Center in Greenfield have resumed following pandemic-related closures. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Orange District Court

  • First Assistant District Attornery Steven Gagne  FILE PHOTO

  • Hampshire Superior Court Clerk Harry Jekanowski Jr. ascends the "up" stairs leading to Courtroom 1 located in the older section of the Hampshire County Courthouse in Northampton on Wednesday, July 15, 2020. Under the precautions for COVID-19, these stairs are reserved for going up and another staircase is reserved for going down, except in emergencies. The elevator is available for one passenger at a time. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Hampshire Superior Court Clerk Harry Jekanowski Jr. pauses in the original courtroom of the Hampshire County Courthouse in Northampton during a tour of the court's new look under reopening restrictions on Wednesday, July 15, 2020. Court 1, as it is also known, is the largest courtroom at the complex and, if jury trials were to return under the current requirements of social distancing, it would be the most prepared to accommodate a full 12-person jury and two alternates. The public seating area, at far right, has already been marked off for six feet of social distancing. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The current jury box of Hampshire Superior Court 2 would not allow six feet of separation between the 12 jurors. On Monday the courthouses of the Northwestern District Attorney's Office began a "gradual reopening" after being closed due to the pandemic. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Hampshire Superior Court Clerk Harry Jekanowski Jr. stands at his regular spot in front of the judge's bench to point out some changes in the Court 2, including a large screen, right, used to conduct court business remotely. The public seating area, not shown, has been marked off to assure six-foot distances between people. Photographed on Wednesday, July 15, 2020. On Monday the courthouses of the Northwestern District Attorney's Office began a "gradual reopening" after being closed due to the pandemic. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Small yellow dots mark the spots for six feet of separation in the public seating area of Hampshire Superior Court 2. Photographed at the Hampshire County Courthouse in Northampton on Wednesday, July 15, 2020. On Monday the courthouses of the Northwestern District Attorney's Office began a "gradual reopening" after being closed due to the pandemic. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Patricia Shepard, a case coordinator at Hampshire Superior Court, works in the court's office in Northampton where clear plastic barriers have been installed between work stations. Photographed on Wednesday, July 15, 2020. On Monday the courthouses of the Northwestern District Attorney's Office began a "gradual reopening" after being closed due to the pandemic. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Hampshire Superior Court Clerk Harry Jekanowski Jr. points out the new windows at the office's check-in counter at the courthouse in Northampton on Wednesday, July 15, 2020. On Monday the courthouses of the Northwestern District Attorney's Office began a "gradual reopening" after being closed due to the pandemic. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Hampshire Superior Court Clerk Harry Jekanowski Jr. and case coordinator Patricia Shepard work in the court’s office in Northampton where clear plastic barriers have been installed between work stations. Photographed on Wednesday, July 15, 2020. On Monday the courthouses of the Northwestern District Attorney's Office began a "gradual reopening" after being closed due to the pandemic. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Seats in the ground floor hallway of the Hampshire County Courthouse in Northampton are spaced six feet apart and fitted with a plastic covering. Photographed on Wednesday, July 15, 2020. On Monday the courthouses of the Northwestern District Attorney's Office began a "gradual reopening" after being closed due to the pandemic. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Seats have been separated for social distancing in the lobby of Hampshire Superior Court 2 at the Hampshire County Courthouse in Northampton. Photographed on Wednesday, July 15, 2020. On Monday the courthouses of the Northwestern District Attorney's Office began a "gradual reopening" after being closed due to the pandemic. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 7/14/2020 10:11:53 PM

Like the others across the state, courthouses in Hampshire and Franklin counties began a “gradual reopening” on Monday, though some of the practices adopted because of the pandemic will remain intact for the time being.

The courts have started conducting more matters in person as opposed to through virtual means, according to First Assistant District Attorney Steven Gagne of the Northwestern district attorney’s office. Gagne said proceedings like arraignments of new cases, guilty pleas and evidentiary hearings such as dangerousness hearings no longer needed to be held remotely. However, he said the more routine proceedings, such as pretrial conferences, will still be held remotely.

“(Courthouses) have been slightly reopened,” Gagne said. “They’re more open now than they have been for the past few months.”

Court matters had been conducted via video conferencing for a few months after Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency to combat the spread of COVID-19.

According to spokesperson Mary Carey, the Northwestern district attorney’s office’s territory consists of the Hampshire and Franklin county superior and district courts as well as district courts in Orange and Belchertown and the Franklin/Hampshire Juvenile Court, which has locations in Greenfield, Orange, Belchertown and Hadley.

Gagne said everyone who enters one of the courthouses is required to wear a face mask and submit to a temperature check to determine if they are sick. He said visitors and court employees will also have to adhere to “some semblance of social distancing” to mitigate the spread of the virus.

Jury trials, which Gagne said are how a “good portion, though not the majority, of cases get resolved,” are still not being held. According to the state’s website, jury trials in both criminal and civil cases continue to be postponed to a date no earlier than Sept. 8. Gagne noted that jury selection would be especially tricky because it takes 50 to 100 potential jurors to select a 12-person pool.

As for staff members, Gagne said 30 to 40 percent of them are going to the courthouses and the rest are working remotely. However, he said, one or two district attorneys are reporting each day to the district courts in the two counties. He said the Northwestern district attorney’s office has adopted the philosophy of operating the court’s core functions with the bare minimum number of staff members working out of the courthouses.

Gagne said employee morale is as good as it can be during this unprecedented time. He said most staff members miss the camaraderie of the workplace.

“Everybody’s been in the same boat and we’re all rowing together,” he said.

He said he is confident in the state’s decision and ability to reopen in a phased way.

“I think the state, as a whole, is wise to take things slowly,” Gagne said. “I think Massachusetts has been among the national leaders in doing it right. Inching our way into the water, I think it’s the right way.”

For more information about visiting a courthouse, visit bit.ly/3esgZ8g.




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