“We are taking every step we can to protect the health and safety of the public and court employees,” said Second Judicial District Chief Judge Stan Whitaker in a news release.
Last Friday, the court announced two other employees had tested positive. According to a release, all three employees had taken part in a voluntary court employee testing organized by the Department of Health. None of the employees showed any symptoms of the virus.
This is the second time District Court has closed since the pandemic started. The last time was in April when another employee was diagnosed with COVID-19.
Back in March District Attorney Raul Torrez asked the New Mexico Supreme Court to keep people out of the courtroom, because of COVID. He asked them to reset all trials for defendants who were not currently in custody, by at least 45 days.
At that time public defender Ben Baur was concerned about a potential backlog in cases, saying it could affect his client’s rights to a speedy trial. Since then all hearings have been hosted virtually with only the Judge and court reporter inside the courtroom. Now Baur says continuous closures like the one announced Thursday could add to that backlog, but officials with the District Court said that’s unlikely.
“In terms of a backlog I’m not sure that’s going to happen because the amount of cases being filed in the court during this time is not the same volume that we normally saw before,” said Sidney Hill, a spokesman for the Second Judicial District Court.
We asked if the court has any plans to prevent future closures from happening, or if they’ll keep closing the courthouse anytime an employee or visitor is diagnosed with the virus, they say they’re using a case by case approach.
District Court still is not hosting jury trials, they’ve submitted a plan to resume those hearings to the New Mexico Supreme Court, and are waiting to hear back.
All employees who have tested positive for COVID-19 are in self-quarantine. Also, any individual that came in contact with those employees have been notified and are required to self-quarantine as well.
The Second Judicial District Court’s downtown location at 400 Lomas Blvd. It will reopen on Monday, June, 22 at 8 a.m.
The Juvenile Justice Center, which houses the court’s Children’s Division, will remain open. Any court filings that cannot be filed electronically through Friday can be filed at that location, 5100 Second Street, NW.
When the Second Judicial District Court reopens, COVID-safe measures will remain in place. Those measures include:
- Masks required for anyone who enters the courthouse, including judges, lawyers and court staff.
- Health screening and temperature checks for all people entering the courthouse.
- Enforcing a minimum six-foot physical distancing to separate people, as recommended by public health authorities to control the spread of the virus.
- Conducting all court proceedings in a manner to minimize contact among people in the courtroom. This includes, when possible, conducting proceedings by telephone and video to eliminate the need for attorneys and litigants to be physically present in a courtroom.
- Enhanced cleaning procedures in the courthouse.
- Reducing the number of people who are in the courthouse on a daily basis by having all employees who are able work from home.
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