Essential hearings only in the courthouse in Kiowa County

Staff Writer

Even in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the the Kiowa County courthouse is a hub for county department activity and for legal cases. But the courthouse, like everything else, has had to reorganize its operations to confirm with the most current mandates from the state and judicial system.

Legal cases in Kiowa County have been delayed. The Kansas Supreme Court has ordered that no jury trials take place in Kansas for now and when that will change is unknown, said Chief Judge Leigh Hood of the 16th Judicial District.

Kiowa County has not had a docket day but are conducting hearings as necessary. The situation changes day to day but plans are to hear cases on a regular basis starting the second week in June, Hood said.

When cases resume, everyone will be required to wear a mask and only 10 people will be allowed in the court room and they have to be scattered. Between hearings, the bailiff, clerk and janitorial staff will wipe down surfaces, including tables and door handles, in the courtroom.

“We’re doing the best we can to keep our people safe and the people coming into the court,” Hood said.

People in the courtroom are kept to a minimum. At one hearing, there was the county attorney, defense attorney, defendant, bailiff and the judges. The defense attorney has to sit at the opposite end of the table as the defendant. If it is necessary for them to communicate, the courtroom is cleared of everyone except the counsel and defendant. They can also go into that hall or a conference.

While the courts are closed, certain essential hearings still have to take place such as bond hearing, emergency child in need of care or protection in a spousal abuse case.

In the small counties in the 16th Judicial District, there probably won’t be more than one hearing at a time before June and depends on the county commissioners who have final say on when courthouses will be open.

As for the rest of the county departments in the courthouse, it remains in lockdown but offices are available by appointment, said Kiowa County Clerk Kristi Cooper.

The east door of the courthouse and the elevator are available. People have to call ahead and when they arrive, the door will be opened for them. Courthouse department staff use a different door to reduce exposure to the virus.

The lock-down will continue for the time being. The County Commissioners will review the situation on May 29 and make a decision if things can change.

Cooper and the Deputy Clerk Shelly Tuttle have alternated days they are in the building. While this wasn’t convenient, it worked, Cooper said.

Like other counties, live stream has been available though Facebook and through a uTube channel, said Media Center Executive Director Grant Neuhold.

The Media Center is available by appointment only. The contact numbers are posted at the office.

The County Health Department, although not located in the courthouse, has remained open with limited access with operations as normal as possible. Clients are screened as they arrive, temperatures are taken, they are asked if they are OK and appointments are encouraged, said Kerri Ulrich, county health administrator and health officer.