Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor
By Anne Yeager
Court News Ohio

Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor has authorized $6 million in remote technology grants to 277 courts in 87 counties, the Supreme Court announced.

The grants are designed to ensure access to justice for Ohioans as courts make accommodations under the continuing COVID-19 public health emergency. The exact total of funding came to $5,984,393.24.

“I have authorized these funds to ensure access to the courts, while also minimizing the risk of COVID-19 transmission to the public, litigants, the bar, and court staff,” Chief Justice O’Connor said.

“Judges have told me that the new equipment they are receiving has changed the way they can do business – not just during this crisis, but going forward when we return to normal.”

The Supreme Court continues to expand its Coronavirus Resources web page that provides guidance for judges, court staffs, attorneys, litigants and the general public.

Chief Justice O’Connor has communicated often with Ohio judges, offering support and guidance during the global pandemic, along with recommendations, including:

• Using data from state and local health departments to determine trends for their jurisdictions.

• Allowing teleworking for all employees who can do so, especially those with health risk factors – for themselves and their household members.

• Limiting building access and monitoring all people who come into court buildings. No one exhibiting signs of illness, including a temperature of 100.4 degrees, should be admitted or allowed to stay in their buildings.

• Enforcement of social distancing, the wearing of masks, and the cleaning of surfaces as outlined in the Responsible RestartOhio General Office Environments document. This includes employees, contractors, litigants, attorneys, and the public.

• Continuing jury trials. If a jury trial must take place, social distancing, and all other precautions must be observed at all times for everyone.

“If a person called for jury duty fails to appear because of the fear of COVID-19, please treat that as a legitimate excuse,” the chief justice has said. “A person should not have to risk their health to comply with a jury summons.”

“Only time will tell how long it will be necessary for the precautions and practices we have implemented to remain in place,” Chief Justice O’Connor said in an email to judges. “I know that you and your staff have faced unexpected challenges during the last two months. I also know that most judges have followed the guidance of this Court and the Health Department and their primary concern is the health and safety of all Ohioans.

“I am thankful for all that you do and will continue to do in your role as an Ohio judge.”