Cuyahoga County Judges Vote To Delay Trials Until Mid-January

photo of brendan sheehan and unnamed county inmate
Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Judge Brendan Sheehan holds a special weekend hearing early in the pandemic, part of a campaign to reduce the jail population. [Matthew Richmond / ideastream]

The Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas will delay jury trials until Jan. 19, 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, after a Monday vote by the court’s judges.

The delay comes two weeks after judges voted to delay trials until Dec. 1 and a few days after the City of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County issued stay-at-home advisories in response to surging coronavirus cases.

A court spokesman referenced the high rate of positive COVID-19 tests in the county to explain the decision.

According to the most recent data from the county board of health, Cuyahoga County’s COVID-19 positivity rate has climbed to 20 percent, up from less than 10 percent in the last week of October.

Those who already received a jury summons should still call in the day before their date to check the court’s status. The courthouse will stay open – hearings will be held by video whenever possible and bench trials and grand juries will still move forward.

Court officials adopted extensive measures early in the pandemic, including restricting movements in the courthouse, requiring health checks at the entrance and conducting more hearings by video.

“From the very beginning, we’ve operated in this courthouse as if the county was a purple county,” said Administrative Judge Brendan Sheehan, referring to the state’s public health advisory system, in which purple represents the highest level of coronavirus risk. “The problem is really that the spike in numbers is just so risky.”

County officials also recently sounded the alarm about the potential for a new outbreak at the county jail. In a recent meeting with MetroHealth CEO Akram Boutros, judges were warned about the dangers of keeping the jail population around 1,500 inmates, after bringing it below 1,000 early in the pandemic.

A recent directive from Sheriff David Schilling prohibited law enforcement agencies in the county from bringing misdemeanor arrests, with the exception of domestic violence cases, to the county jail until further notice.

Early in the pandemic, county judges also focused on moving people out of the jail. Non-essential hearings were delayed, along with trials and special bail-setting hearings were scheduled over weekends, resulting in a dramatic drop in the jail population.

Court officials said this time around, judges are reviewing cases to find people who can be released but additional measures are not planned.

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