Wisconsin Courts Consider What It Will Take To Reopen For Hearings

May 5, 2020

Representatives from Wisconsin’s judicial system are trying to figure out how to protect the health of the public and workers once courthouses resume normal operations. They are among the countless facilities that scaled back operations earlier this year as the coronavirus spread.

On Monday, county and state Supreme Court representatives of the Wisconsin Courts COVID-19 Task Force met. One thing they discussed was how to determine which employees are essential to on-location work and which can work remotely.

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Joseph Guidote is the corporation counsel for Outagamie County. He says workers could be screened for the coronavirus, which could be done by having their temperature taken before they enter the building. But he says there could be complications.

“There are other considerations such as whether personnel are qualified to administer those checks and the type of equipment used for administering tests,” says Guidote.

Physical well being wasn’t the only concern the task force weighed. Milwaukee County Chief Judge Mary Triggiano says planners shouldn’t underestimate the emotional impact COVID-19 has had.

"There's going to be a variety of people who don't feel comfortable coming back. And if they do, how they're going to struggle day in and day out trying to do their job with that sort of emotional piece hanging over them?” says Triggiano.

Task force members also talked about the challenge of getting people called for jury duty to report to courthouses, saying some might wish to opt-out for fear of their lives.

Even if courthouses require the use of face masks and try to prevent people from sitting close to one another, it still might be impossible to keep a safe distance at all times, says Judge Patrick Haughney of the Waukesha County Circuit Court.

“I see certain problems coming into play, and even for [the] district attorney who at times confers with the victim in the middle of a hearing. There are often times you pause and the victim and the D.A. are ear-to-cheek conferring on something, so I think there are some great limitations to doing in-person hearings in the near future,” says Haughney.

The task force will meet again to go into greater detail on how to address concerns with reopening courtrooms.

Editor's note: A portion of the audio is courtesy of WisconsinEye.

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