Chief Judge Michelle A. Amico of the 18th Judicial District has closed courtrooms except for public safety matters, and even then will try to conduct such proceedings remotely to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Her order exempts petitions for civil protection orders, child welfare and bail setting, among other types of proceedings. The list mirrors that which Chief Justice Nathan B. Coates outlined on March 16 in his guidance to chief district judges around the state. Coates gave them the discretion to further restrict operations as needed.
The 18th Judicial District, which comprises Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties, will remain on the modified schedule until April 3.
A patchwork of operations exists statewide: multiple districts request that parties ask for a continuance or remote appearance if they have coronavirus symptoms or come into contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19. The 14th Judicial District on the Western Slope requests that people contact the courthouse before coming in to determine if their business can take place over the phone. The 20th Judicial District in Boulder adds that people who have traveled outside of the U.S. in the past 14 days should not come in.
Tom Raynes, the executive director of the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council, is concerned about the varying protocols between districts. He called on the public and the media to hold accountable any judge who does not run their courtroom in accordance with public health guidance.
“We are closely monitoring the situation and discussing issues with the elected DAs – including the numerous variations of chief judge COVID response orders in the 22 judicial districts that are leading to confusion and lack of predictability for all involved in the judicial system,” Raynes said.
He added that it is necessary for all judges to apply “a unified and consistent protocol in every courtroom in terms of the scheduling of cases and the judicial processes."
Maureen A. Cain of the Colorado State Public Defender's Office said that the organization is in "total agreement" with the 18th Judicial District order, explaining that it will protect the health of defendants as well as others in the courtroom.
"We remain concerned about clients in custody but there is a provision in the court’s order that requires attention to the cases of persons in custody," she said. "We are working every day with the courts and the prosecutors to try to mitigate any prejudice to our clients and get the cases of persons incarcerated before the court and resolved ASAP."
Editor's note: This story has been updated.