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Pitkin County courts limited to ‘essential functions’

Pitkin County Courthouse
Aspen Times file

Like just about everything else in society, the coronavirus is affecting pending civil and criminal cases in Pitkin County District Court and County Court.

Based on an order Monday from Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Coats curtailing court operations to essential actions only until at least April 3, the chief judge of the 9th Judicial District echoed those new requirements in an order of his own Tuesday.

“… (Cases) shall be managed and set so that in-person court proceedings are limited to essential matters as defined in the Chief Justice Order and to matters where the presiding judge determines the proceedings are necessary to prevent a substantial risk of imminent financial hardship or imminent risk to the health, safety or welfare of any individual or the community at large,” Chief Judge James Boyd wrote in the order.

“Except for jury trials, this order by itself does not change any settings; specific changes shall only be by order of the judge presiding over a particular case.”

First and foremost, Coats suspended all jury trials not facing imminent speedy trial deadlines, as well as all jury calls. That means Pitkin County residents summoned for jury duty Thursday won’t have to show up.

He also named 10 essential court functions that will continue throughout the pandemic, including protection order hearings, advisements and other hearings for incarcerated defendants, emergency mental health proceedings and some hearings involving juveniles, parental issues and emergency guardians.

Criminal dockets “will be limited to cases involving essential functions and cases ready for substantive action with imminent need,” Boyd said in his order. Continuances of up to 45 days may be granted by the presiding judge by motion.

Aspen-based District Judge Chris Seldin — who handles felonies twice a month on Mondays — isn’t scheduled to have another docket until April 6, after Coats’ order expires. A decision about whether that docket will change has not yet been made, according to Ian Roberts, Seldin’s clerk.

Most District Court hearings will continue to be held remotely, according to Boyd’s order.

Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely, who handles criminal misdemeanors most Tuesdays in Pitkin County Court, has continued her March 24 docket until April 28, her March 31 docket until May 26 and her April 7 docket until June 9.

Fernandez-Ely said she will hold most other hearings telephonically.

For cases that demand in-person hearings, Boyd directed presiding judges to satisfy social-distancing recommendations and pointed out that they can limit who attends and require those who do come to bring hand sanitizer, according to his order.

The Pitkin County Clerk’s Office, located on the second floor of the Pitkin County Courthouse in downtown Aspen, will remain open. The office can be reached at 970-925-7635.

Meanwhile, the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office has encouraged attorneys and employees to work from home, and local public defenders are doing the same.

jauslander@aspentimes.com


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