SJC courts building closes to public, moves back to Phase 2

CENTREVILLE — Courts in St. Joseph County have once again been closed to the public.

On Thursday, the St. Joseph County Administrator’s Office announced that due to “an upward trajectory of COVID-19 cases,” the St. Joseph County Courts Building has returned to Phase 2 of the Michigan Supreme Court’s Returning to Full Capacity Guide.

County courts have been in Phase 3 of the four-phase plan since Sept. 18, and have been holding various hearings over the Zoom video conference platform since they originally went to Phase 2 in March.

St. Joseph County Circuit Court Administrator Kathy Griffin said the move is based on protocols outlined by the State Court Administrative Office, which includes criteria on the trajectory of COVID-19 cases in the area.

“We had, in order to go from Phase 2 to Phase 3, you have to have a downward trajectory [of cases], so at any point if you have an upward trajectory of 14 days, you have to go back a phase,” Griffin said. “Because of the last 14 days of an increased upward trajectory of positive cases, we had to go back to Phase 2.”

The number of COVID-19 cases in St. Joseph County has seen an extreme upward trajectory, with over 300 since Oct. 13, with 47 new cases reported Wednesday alone. In total, as of Wednesday afternoon, St. Joseph County has had 1,096 cumulative cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

Griffin said the move to Phase 2 would not significantly impact court operations, with the biggest change being the closure of the courts building to the public. She added that there won’t be any schedule changes when it comes to hearings or cases in court.

“We’ve been, even at Phase 3, doing all hearings remotely, and we’re encouraged to continue to do all hearings remotely no matter what phase we’re in until the pandemic’s over,” Griffin said. “Everything’s still being conducted, everything’s still scheduled. Day-to-day operations are still the same, it’s basically just public body in the courthouse.”

A copy of the local administrative order announcing the move to Phase 2 can be found on the county’s website at www.stjosephcountymi.org. People who need to do business with various court departments are encouraged to call ahead with the respective department.

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 23 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

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