Circuit Court report: COVID means no jury trials in 2020

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By Judge Greg Coy,

Switzerland Circuit Court

  As Judge oFrontf the Switzerland Circuit Court, I would like to submit to the citizens of Switzerland County the following report on the activities of the Circuit Court for the year 2020.

  It probably goes without saying but 2020 was an unusual year for the court due to COVID-19.

  There were no jury trials in 2020; a number were scheduled and needed to be tried but due to the moratorium placed on all courts by the Indiana Supreme Court very few trials were held in all the State of Indiana. There was a period in late summer/early fall where trials were allowed, but due to the structure of our courthouse and courtroom I did not feel it would be safe to call in 50-100 citizens for a trial. As of the writing of this report, Indiana will not be allowing jury trials until at least March.

  One good thing that has come of this situation is that we do use ‘Zoom’ meetings for a limited number of cases. The Sheriff no longer has to have an officer escort prisoners to the courtroom for initial hearings and the like, which means the safety of the officers who bring prisoners to court is not endangered, nor is the safety of the public, who travel the same paths as prisoners to enter, leave and move around inside the courthouse. Some hearings are still held “live”, and when that happens, safety protocols are followed. All participants are required to wear a mask and maintain social distancing; before and after each hearing, any chairs, tables, microphones, or the like that are used by any hearing participants are wiped down and sprayed.

  Further, since there were no jury trials I ordered that any money that had been appropriated for jury trials was returned to the county’s general fund. To further assist our county council, who had to deal with budget shortfalls as a result of COVID-19, I ordered additional funds from my budget to be returned to the county general fund; the total was around $50,000, which constitutes about ten percent (10%) of the court’s total budget. The court remained under budget for 2020 otherwise.

  There were 386 new criminal cases, 287 infractions and 116 other miscellaneous criminal cases filed in 2020. There were 33 new Child in Need of Services cases and 382 new civil cases (small claims, divorces, other collection actions, etc.). The court decided/disposed of 673 criminal/infraction cases and 332 civil cases. The court remained open and busy, with staff working remotely, even during those times when the courthouse was closed due to the pandemic.

  Another positive from the past year is the ability we have to deal with people who are arrested and dealing with drug addiction problems. We have in place a grant which allows us to utilize CERT (Crisis Emergency Response Team). When a person is arrested in a drug case that is not a dealing case, a representative of CERT will meet with the individual in the jail and determine if there is a program whereby the individual can receive in patient treatment. The goal is that through treatment the individual may avoid drugs in the future and thereby avoid arrest. This program/method is not perfect but offers the best hope for all of us to hopefully, over time, alleviate the drug problem we have in our community.

  Our CERT representatives made 150 referrals for services and resources from July 1st through the end of the year and have 19 active clients at this time.

  By way of background, my usual approach to drug cases is to cause the individual to seek counseling if they are only charged with possession of drugs; if a defendant is charged with dealing drugs, the court’s approach is punitive, in other words, drug users are more often than not assisted in finding help, drug dealers are dealt with by giving them prison time. If the court seeks to support a defendant with counseling and the defendant either fails to cooperate in counseling or re-offends, that individual is most often looking at extended jail time.

  2020 was also an election year and even though I was unopposed I was honored to be re-elected through a free and fair election process to a third six-year term as your judge. I will continue to work hard for the citizens of this community. I would note that I am aware of many folks who have criticisms of me and or the court; I take that as an indicator that there is room for me to improve my performance as your judge and will continue to try and do so.

  I thank you for allowing me to continue to serve as your judge; I look forward to another productive year in the Court in 2021.  Hopefully the vaccine will make its way through our community, and we can get back to a normal life. I do want to thank the outgoing elected officials I had the privilege of working with-Josh South, Rachel Shuler, Nancy Barker, Darla McAlister, and Cindy Barnes. I look forward to working with our newly elected officials and wish them the best of luck. Although I am not allowed to comment on any pending cases, if there are any questions, comments or general concerns, please feel free to contact me at gcoy83@yahoo.com.