Courthouse to reopen on June 1

By Buck Collier, Special Correspondent
Posted 5/28/20

HERMANN — With the necessary materials being gathered and final details being ironed out, Gasconade County administrators have set June 1 as the date to reopen the courthouse.

But the …

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Courthouse to reopen on June 1

Posted

HERMANN — With the necessary materials being gathered and final details being ironed out, Gasconade County administrators have set June 1 as the date to reopen the courthouse.

But the potentially dozens of people arriving for appearances in one of the two 20th Circuit courtrooms possibly will be required to stay outside the building while waiting to have their cases heard — thanks to the social-distancing guideline adopted by the Circuit Court’s top judge as part of the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Presiding Commissioner Larry Miskel, R-Hermann, at Thursday morning’s weekly County Commission session said he has been making arrangements for masks and high-tech thermometers that will be used to screen all people coming into the courthouse. The building for the last several weeks has been locked down with entry granted by county government personnel after asking questions about a visitor’s health and travel history, all part of the local effort to curb the spread of the virus.

County officials earlier had set May 18 as the reopening date; indeed, 20th Circuit Court Presiding Judge Ike Lamke notified county administrators that court personnel would be resuming regular work scheduled on that date and that the local courtrooms would resume hearing cases. However, his announcement included steps proscribed by the Missouri Supreme Court that includes all people entering the courtrooms to wear masks and have their temperatures checked. Those arriving without a mask will be provided one by county government.

The County Commission agreed to follow the lead of Lamke; however, in doing so the County Commission committed itself to obtaining the items needed to conduct the screening of those entering the Courthouse — including the likely hiring of a full-time law enforcement officer to conduct the screening. That position — unlike having a deputy sheriff already on staff assigned to that duty — can be paid for with some of the $1.725 million Gasconade County has received as part of the federal $2.2-trillion coronavirus relief package signed into law several weeks ago.

County administrators are talking with Sheriff Mark A. Williams about the best way to handle front-door staffing issue. Miskel said Williams has several questions about the planned reopening of the Courthouse and the courts. He said he would talk more with the sheriff, but added that “the majority of his concerns are between him and the court.”

If the person hired for the front-door screening duty is indeed a deputy sheriff, he cannot be assigned to other tasks within the sheriff’s department because the position will be paid with the federal emergency funds. However, when that role is no longer required, that deputy could be hired on as a regular member of the sheriff’s agency, if a vacancy is available, and paid through the county’s normal budget process.

One issue of concern for the Gasconade County Sheriff's Department — which, as of last week, was operating shorthanded by three deputies — is how many deputies would need to be assigned to the courts when they reopen. The initial thinking was that one bailiff would be needed inside the second-floor courtroom and one outside the courtroom to ensure the 6-foot social-distancing protocol was being observed by those in the lobby area waiting to have their cases called. A crowd outside the courtroom might be likely because of the 10-person limit guideline that will be followed inside the courtroom. Considering that as many as six people in the courtroom will be court personnel, only four people making appearances could be in the courtroom at one time. Fewer, perhaps, if those making an appearance are being represented by their attorney.

Screenings will apply to courthouse personnel as well as to the people taking care of matters at the various county government departments. “We should all be tested,” said County Clerk Lesa Lietzow, who added that entry will need to be made at the south-side doors, rather than the north-side and east-side doors normally used by the employees. Miskel said he is hopeful that all the necessary pieces, especially the hiring of a law enforcement office, will be in place “so we’ll have what we need, logistically, to open the doors June 1.”

 

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