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Greene County inmates won’t appear in-person for court after coronavirus case inside jail

Published: Aug. 5, 2020 at 5:48 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Inmates in the Greene County jail will not make in-person court appearances, after one inmate tested positive for the coronavirus.

There were about 100 inmates in the same housing unit as the confirmed case, and they’re all being tested. Until those results come back, the court’s presiding judge does not want to risk possible infections by bringing inmates from the jail into the courthouse.

Inmates can appear in front of a judge remotely, through audio and video telecommunication. Presiding Judge Michael Cordonnier said the decision is meant to contain the coronavirus. He said right now, it’s not clear how many other inmates might later test positive.

“We have a variety of civil and criminal cases and they continue to go forward, whether or not there’s a COVID virus,” Cordonnier said.

Cordonnier said the court system is an essential part of our society.

“So we have been taking every precaution that we are aware of ever since this started back in March,” he said.

Right now, masks are required inside the courthouse. Everyone gets their temperature checked at the door. Witnesses wear face shields while testifying, but for now, criminal jury trials are cancelled.

“We did the same thing back in March. We can function without bringing jail detainees, or inmates over to the courthouse,” Cordonnier said.

The murder trial for Andrew Vrba that started this week is exempt from the rule. Cordonnier said it was determined Vrba was not exposed to the positive case and was quarantined to stay healthy for court proceedings.

The 31st Judicial Court also cancelled the criminal jury trial scheduled for the week of August 10. Cordonnier said that is meant to limit how many people are coming in and out of the courthouse.

“We’re not going to bring those volumes of jurors into our courthouse and we’re not going to bring an inmate from the jail over for trial,” Cordonnier said.

However, he said the courthouse will remain open. He said courtrooms will do much of their proceedings by phone or virtual meetings.

Cordonnier said lawyers will not have to come to the courthouse either. A major with the Greene County Sheriff’s Office says lawyers can still meet their clients in the jail if they choose.

Jail medical staff tested the inmates who were being housed with the one confirmed case. If any of those tests come back positive, officials will be able to find out if they might’ve exposed anyone in a courtroom.

“We know when they were in court, how long they were there, that sort of thing. We can keep track of that,” Cordonnier said.

Monday, the sheriff’s office wrote in a news release, “all medical staff issued masks to all inmates and will continue screening the existing inmate population as well as every arrest brought to the facility.”

Three former inmates tested positive for COVID-19 after they were transported from the Greene County jail to the Missouri Department of Corrections. The sheriff’s office then screened the nearly 770 inmates it houses, and one tested positive.

Major Royce Denny, with the sheriff’s office, said staff tested all inmates who had been in the same housing unit. Not all the test results have come back, so he would not say if more cases are confirmed.

Both changes from the courthouse are set to last until August 18. Cordonnier said he expects them to be extended beyond that date.

Copyright 2020 KY3. All rights reserved.

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