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District Court makes changes to reduce spread of COVID-19

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POLSON – The 20th Judicial District Court in Lake County put out a notice to attorneys on March 17 with guidelines concerning how to proceed with cases as the COVID-19 virus spreads.  

The administrative order from District Court Judge James Manley states the COVID-19 virus is expected to continue to increase in Montana. “Most district courts around the state are adopting measures to attempt to flatten the curve of the spread of the virus,” 

The Lake and Sanders County District Court put administrative actions in place until May 1. Attorneys are asked to avoid coming to court unless necessary. “All court proceedings, other than trials, are closed to the public,” the action states. “Only the parties in the case, their attorneys and necessary witnesses will be allowed in the courtroom. Spectators will not be allowed. Further directions will be posted on the courtroom door.”

For criminal cases, all scheduled criminal trials are continued until May 4. “Defendants and their attorneys are encouraged to waive speedy trial and stipulate to continuances. If defendants want an expedited trial, they shall file the request and that will be accomplished if possible.”

The action continues to state that all necessary hearings and law and motion appearances will be held as before. “For incarcerated defendants, such matters will be done by Vision Net from the jail when possible. For defendants who are not incarcerated, the matters will be held in the courtroom, according to guidelines posted on the courtroom door. Requests to handle the hearings remotely can be expected to be granted.”

For civil cases, all trials and hearings scheduled before May 1 are continued without date. “New dates will be issued when more information is available,” Manley states.  

District Court Judge Deborah Kim Christopher signed a notice on March 17 stating that there will be no law and motion for department two of District Court on March 26. Those matters are continued to April 2, tentatively. 

“The circumstances of any hearing will be determined by the medical concerns for protection of the people as to the COVID-19 virus in Montana,” Christopher states. “In providing this notice, the court would refer any attorneys/parties to the directions in the release provided by Montana Supreme Court Chief Justice McGrath and the actions by Governor Bullock.”

Christopher also states that any matters that can be resolved by filing, paperwork, telephone or email should be. Vision Net, she states, will continue to be available, “especially in the event of emergency hearings.” 

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