On Friday, the Utah Supreme Court issued an updated administrative order pertaining to court functions during the COVID-19 pandemic. The State of Utah Judiciary also updated their risk phase response plan.
Brett Folkman, a Court Executive with the 1st District Court, said as a result of the updates courts will again move online “as much as feasible.”
“It is assumed that it is not feasible to conduct the following proceedings remotely; jury trials in district and justice courts, trials in juvenile court, evidentiary hearings in juvenile and district court, and first appearance calendars,” the response plan states.
Folkman said jury trials, preliminary hearings and other evidentiary hearings will continue in-person without change. And other types of proceedings can be approved by a presiding judge for an in-person setting, Folkman said.
Under the new updates, Folkman anticipated sentencing hearings could be sought after for in-person settings to allow victims to better address the defendants and the court. Folkman said the drug and mental health specialty courts would remain in a virtual courtroom.
“It’s not a huge transition,” Folkman said. “It’s not going to affect us that much.”
For Folkman, however, in-person proceedings are preferable and seem to be a boon for a court’s efficiency.
“I think you see cases settle quicker and cases move along faster in-person,” Folkman said. “And then there’s always the technology issues … but it has its advantages, too.”
In June, after around eight months in a “red” phase that restricted jury trials and in-person proceedings without “exigent circumstances,” the 1st District Court in Cache County moved to a “yellow” phase after an order from Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Matthew Durrant. Since the courts in the 1st District reopened, Folkman said, Box Elder County proceeded with three jury trials while the courts in Cache County haven’t seen any.
“We have had some scheduled, they just haven’t gone,” Folkman said. “That’s not unusual; cases settle.”