Lewis County Courts Cancel All Jury Trials, Postpone Out of Custody Criminal Cases

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Lewis County Superior and District Courts are temporarily changing the way they conduct business as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In particular, courts will delay all jury trials, hearings in new criminal cases in which a person is not arrested and booked into the Lewis County Jail, criminal cases in which a person is not in custody, all traffic infraction hearings currently scheduled and most civil matters.

Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer sent out a news release Monday, noting that representatives from Superior, Juvenile and District courts, the County Clerk’s Office, the Prosecutor’s Office and the Sheriff’s Office met early this week to discuss what steps they needed to take to comply with “mandates” regarding the COVID-19 response.

On Monday, Gov. Jay Inslee ordered restaurants, bars and other service establishments to close or curtail service and limited public gatherings. His order did not specifically address courts or criminal justice. Schools have also been closed as of Tuesday.

“After meeting, it was determined limited staffing would be available in some areas and many hearings will be impacted,” Meyer’s press release states. “The goal is to continue to meet the obligations of each office while doing what is necessary to protect those wishing to access the justice system and those working inside the system.”

Superior Court issued a “general order” noting that Lewis County’s court facilities are “high volume areas,” and that a number of changes would need to be made.

Among those changes, all traffic infraction hearings will be canceled, all scheduled out-of-custody criminal hearings are canceled and will be rescheduled and new criminal cases not involving an arrest will be delayed until an unspecified later date. Sentencing compliance hearings have also been canceled and probation appointments will be conducted via telephone.

In-custody criminal matters will proceed as usual, as will petitions for anti-harassment orders and impound hearings.

All other civil matters, including name changes, small claims, civil trials and civil motions are canceled and will be rescheduled. All jury trials are canceled.

The court will also limit attendance in the courtroom to necessary personnel. Members of the public will be allowed if they can stay 6 feet apart.

Representatives of the offices listed above issued a joint statement, saying, “It is important that each person does his or her part to help contain this virus and prevent further spread of COVID-19. These steps, while inconvenient, are necessary to satisfy the mandate and protect those working inside the system while, at the same time, minimizing the impact on those seeking to access the system.”

On Tuesday, inmates in custody in the Lewis County Jail appeared for their preliminary hearings in Lewis County Superior Court via the HomeWAV video system, usually used for visitation at the Jail.

Inmates are typically brought from the jail to Superior Court rooms in the Lewis County Law and Justice Center for hearings. They were represented Tuesday by a defense attorney in the jail.