press-release

For Immediate Release

May 29, 2020

Over the past several months, residents of Cowlitz County have been challenged in an unprecedented way as the COVID-19 pandemic races across our community and world.Fear and concern has touched us all.The Courts have been no exception to this struggle as we grapple with the constitutional mandate of providing access to the courts and at the same time making sure court visitors and staff are as safe as they can be in our facilities.

When COVID-19 began impacting our community, the Court ramped down normal operations in a few short days.This included limiting in-person hearings, reducing hall of justice hours, reduced access to the juvenile center, and a host of other impacts.We know this has been very difficult for you.Everything we have done has been focused on making sure you are safe and our staff are safe.We share your frustration but are optimistic about the way forward and want to share the current status of court operations.

Currently, we are in Phase I court operations and planning.This means simply that all hearings, with few exceptions are be conducted by telephone or CourtCall. By June, all court hearings should be conducted by ZOOM technology or what we like to call "virtual court" and streamed to YouTube so the public will still be able to observe court.Our goal is to operationalize ZOOM or "virtual court" by June 1.

By mid-to-late June and into July, our goal is to begin Phase II which means we will begin holding a small number of mostly virtual trials and some in-person hearings.We will limit the number of people in courtrooms, require those in the court facilities and courtrooms to socially distance, wear masks, and use hand sanitizer.We are also implementing enhanced cleaning regiments in court facilities.

We are targeting mid-July to resume criminal jury trials which is Phase III.Due to the social distancing requirements and the need to protect all involved, we are planning to hold jury trials at the Cowlitz County Event Center.Our current court facilities do not allow us enough space to socially distance consistent with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines.In order to properly socially distance 100 potential jurors, we need roughly 3,600 square feet, which is not attainable at the hall of justice or any other current court facility.

By the end of July, we hope to be fully integrated into Phase III and planning for Phase IV, which is resuming in-person court operations or normal operations, though we do not expect this to be for some time.Modified court operations, including social distancing requirements could very well run into 2021.

Since March of this year, we have had the privilege of working with many agencies and stakeholders who have committed many hours to court planning efforts.We are so fortunate to work in a community where people are committed to working together.We would specifically like to thank the Board of Commissioners, Cowlitz County Incident Management Team, Cowlitz County Human Services/Health Department, Cowlitz County Clerk's Office, Sheriff's Office, Cowlitz County Jail, Prosecutor's Office, Cowlitz County Chief of Staff's Office, Cowlitz County Risk Management and Purchasing, Office of Public Defense, Cowlitz County Bar Association, and all the Superior Court Staff who have been devoted to the mission of providing our community service in this unparalleled and critical time.

Lastly, the Court would like to thank the citizens of Cowlitz County for your patience and flexibility.Our goal is to provide all court users timely access to the court and we will do all we can to achieve that goal, but we will do it in the safest manner possible.

As our progress continues and more details become available, we will share with you.

For more information about the Cowlitz County Superior Court, please visit our website at: https://cowlitzsuperiorcourt.us/

For Additional Information Contact:

Chadwick M. Connors

360-577-3085 or [email protected]