Kentucky Politics

The Kentucky Supreme Court has issued new coronavirus restrictions that will affect courts across the state, including the delay of all jury trials until February.

The mandates come as Kentucky continues to experience a surge in new coronavirus cases. As of Thursday, the state had broken its daily record for new cases four times in the previous nine days.

Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John Minton wrote in a statement that courts need to restrict activities to protect the public and staff from exposure to the virus.

“People can choose whether to eat at a restaurant or go shopping, but in most instances they don’t get to choose whether they go to court. We have a responsibility to do all we can to keep people from being exposed to a potentially fatal virus,” Minton wrote.

Gov. Andy Beshear issued new restrictions earlier in the week, closing schools, limiting indoor gatherings and closing bars and restaurants to indoor service.

Now, Kentucky courts must hold remote hearings for all proceedings, except emergency cases, require grand jury proceedings to either be conducted remotely or suspended and limit entry to court facilities.

In-person hearings can still be held for “emergency and time sensitive matters” like domestic violence hearings, emergency custody hearings, evidence hearings for criminal cases and other hearings where someone is being held in custody.

All civil and criminal jury trials are postponed until after February 1, 2021. Minton said that in-custody criminal trials would take priority over all other matters.

The new procedures allow evictions to proceed, as long as they don’t violate the federal CARES Act provision that banned landlords from evicting tenants for not paying rent between March 27 and July 25 of this year.

At the initial eviction hearing, courts are required to notify tenants that they can seek assistance from Gov. Beshear’s Healthy at Home Eviction Relief Fund.

Minton thanked court personnel for their patience during what he called “a difficult winter.”

“The good news is that a vaccine is on the horizon and we’re starting to see a path out of this deep crisis,” Minton wrote.

“In the meantime, we must continue to ensure justice for the commonwealth while protecting the health of our employees and the public.”

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.