Clarion judicial emergency order will likely continue

The declaration of judicial emergency order issued last month by Clarion County President Judge Sara Seidle-Patton will “most likely” be extended into the new year.

Seidle-Patton said at Thursday’s county jail board meeting the order expires Dec. 31, but “as we monitor the (coronavirus) cases in the county it is most likely to be extended,” she added. “I have not officially done that yet but it looks like it is headed that way.”

The order said the county is “currently experiencing a substantial increase in COVID-19 cases” and that court operations were being impacted, which made it difficult to “effectuate court proceedings in the usual manner.”

Provisions currently in place include the cancellation of all jury trials and limiting the people who may attend court proceedings to witnesses and attorneys unless expressly authorized by the president judge.

Advanced technologies have been used in the court for criminal proceedings. Requests for continuances have been “liberally” granted and criminal plea court is scheduled in “increments” to reduce the number of people in the courtroom.

Anyone attending proceedings in the courtroom must wear a facemask and practice social distancing.

Central Court procedures were also affected by the order. Only the district attorney and necessary staff, police officers, defense attorneys and defendants are permitted to enter the court buildings.

The domestic relations division has been conducting all support conferences and other appointments by telephone or Zoom rather than face-to-face.

The order also impacts the sheriff’s department. Prisoners aren’t taken before the judge, and advanced technologies are used for those proceedings.

The judicial order would remain in effect for 90 days if it is reauthorized.