Admin order causes most court proceedings to be put on hold

Published: Mar. 24, 2020 at 5:57 PM AKDT
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The court system in Alaska is going to be slower for some time after the Chief Justice an administrative order to relax and suspend various court rules as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chief Justice Joel Bolger called for the suspension of all superior court and district court proceedings until April 3rd, 2020. Additionally the order calls that all trials and civil marriage ceremonies are suspended throughout May 1st, 2020.

Chief Justice Bolger noted that there are a select few exceptions to the order.

"We ended up with a plan to maintain emergency hearings and hearings that involve fundamental constitutional rights but to postpone most other routine hearings," the chief justice said.

There's a number of different exceptions that can be found in the order.

An oversimplified example of how this will work is that people who commit crimes will still be booked, have charging documents filed, and have a bail arraignment set up. However, folks who are looking to do business such as filing for divorce will have to wait until after the order is over.

The chief justice provided some more examples of kinds of cases that the court will still see until that time.

"The things that are not cancelled are things that involve a serious emergency mainly," he said, "Petitions that involve mental breakdowns, petitions that involve temporary custody of children who are in need of aid because of abuse or neglect, domestic violence applications."

These decisions were all made in the name of social distancing according to Bolger. He said the courts are still open during this time. However, there is signage on the doors of courthouses telling anyone with coronavirus symptoms to stay away.

For people who still have business with the court to tend to, there are a number of telecommunication options in place.

Those options can be viewed for individual courthouses

The court system isn't the only entity in the judicial system making changes in response to the pandemic. Anchorage District Attorney John Novak said they are also figuring out how to make everything work in their office as well.

He notes setting up telecommunication options and figuring out who can work from home and how has been a challenge but they're adapting.

No matter how well they execute those adaptations, Novak said he sees a lot of work piling up between now and when things start getting back to normal.

"There's going to be a huge backlog of cases that we're going to have to process and get through a grand jury at some point down the road," he said.

Novak said he knows these changes are in the name of public safety, but doesn't want the public thinking that law enforcement and the justice system are taking a break because of the virus.

"Ultimately, we are committed at the office to working with our brothers and sisters in law enforcement to ensure that we don't have this community turn into a lawless community," he said.

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