What relaxed COVID-19 restrictions mean for Kentucky courtrooms

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDKY) – Kentucky’s court system has implemented a lot of changes in response to COVID-19 restrictions. Now that those restrictions have been lifted, how many of those changes will stay in place?

Virtual arraignments may be coming to end.

On Tuesday, Kentucky’s Chief Justice John Minton Jr. issued two orders, essentially saying courts could go back to normal if they choose. Fayette County’s chief circuit judge says they’re still deciding what that means for them.

“I believe our governor has said June 11 is the open up date, and so that’s a little bit in conflict with what our Supreme Court has advised us. We clearly can wait until June 11 but I think it’s going to be a little confusing for our community,” Judge Kimberly Bunnell said.

Judge Bunnell said they can start scheduling in-person hearings again, but most of their business will continue virtually.

“It’s still strongly encouraged that we use our Zoom hearings, it’s strongly encouraged that people make phone payments electronically, that they file their documents electronically,” Judge Bunnell said.

Attorneys have told us the virtual hearings have made it easier for them. Defense attorney Greg Coulson lives in Cynthiana, but practices across the state.

“For us to have to drive an hour or two in order to do an arraignment, that takes two or three minutes when all we’re going to do is plead not guilty and get a date to come back and set a date for discovery compliance,” Coulson said.

But, he says there is a need for an open courthouse, especially for those without the technology to go online.

“There are large swaths of Kentucky that don’t have a cell phone or Internet access. These individuals, a lot of them are driving to a McDonald’s parking lot to try to get Internet or standing outside the courthouse and the bailiff is letting our judge know that this person is trying to be present but they don’t have the technology to do it,” Bunnell said.

They also have a backlog of jury trials to get through. Those have been on hold since the start of the pandemic and have to take place in person.

While one of those orders eliminates the mask requirement for people who are fully vaccinated, it still strongly encourages for masks to be worn by members of the public, officials, and employees who are not fully vaccinated.

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