(UNDATED) – In response to concerns about COVID-19, the Lawrence County courts are working with local emergency management and have developed an internal working group consisting of Judge Nathan Nikirk, Judge John Plummer III, Judge William Sleva, and various other county agencies to assess COVID-19’s potential impact on the courts.
Circuit Court Judge Nathan G. Nikirk is the presiding judge who will work as the liaison between the Lawrence County Courts, Indiana Supreme Court, Lawrence County Bar Association, state and local emergency management and the news media.
Judge Nikirk explained that the Lawrence County Courts are monitoring the situation with guidance from health officials and remain open. However, Judge Nikirk explained that the Courts are enacting continuity of operations procedures which will change how the Courts operate.
“As of now, the Courts have no intention of closing. However, the Courts will be handling hearings differently until we know more about the COVID-19 virus and the impact on our county.”
Some examples include telephonic appearances by attorneys rather than in-person hearings, video conferencing with incarcerated defendants, and moving some hearings to a different date to avoid overcrowding in public waiting areas.
Maintaining required court operations is important. However, the health and safety of our employees and community are equally important. Therefore, the Lawrence County Courts filed a petition pursuant to Indiana Administrative Rule 17 with the Indiana Supreme Court on March 13, 2020.
Administrative Rule 17 describes the Indiana Supreme Court’s ability to oversee the local administration of trial courts in the event of any unanticipated work interruption. Trial courts can utilize the rule by petitioning the Supreme Court for emergency relief if needed,
based on local circumstances.
The petition was filed after learning that an Indiana Department of Child Services attorney who frequently works in the Lawrence Circuit Court had contact with a DCS family case manager in Monroe County, Indiana who may have the COVID-19 virus.
The contact between the DCS attorney and the individual in Monroe County occurred on March 10, 2020, and Judge Nikirk was informed about the possible contact at approximately 7:00 p.m. on March 12, 2020.
“I want to stress that I have not been informed of who the individual is in Monroe County and it has not been confirmed that the individual actually has the COVID- 19 virus,” said Judge Nathan Nikirk. “Further, on March 13, 2020, I telephoned the DCS attorney who appears in my court and the individual is not showing any symptoms at this time. In addition, the DCS attorney did not appear in any Lawrence County Court during the week of March 9, 2020, through March 13, 2020, and the DCS attorney does not reside in Lawrence County.”