Ohio Supreme Court orders Medina County judge to stop holding all in-person, non-emergency hearings during coronavirus pandemic
CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Ohio Supreme Court on Thursday ordered Medina County Domestic Relations Court Judge Mary Kovack to stop holding all in-person, non-emergency hearings amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The court ruled in response to two lawyers filing separate requests that accused the veteran Kovack and her magistrates of holding unnecessary hearings and placing them, their clients, their families and court staff at risk of being exposed to the COVID-19 virus.
The order does not preclude the judge from holding hearings by telephone or video.
Kovack has denied holding non-essential hearings and stated Monday listing steps she has taken to limit court proceedings due to the virus. She told cleveland.com in a phone interview Friday that she wanted to personally review every case where a lawyer has requested a continuance based on the COVID-19 virus before deciding whether to postpone the hearing. That included cases where attorneys on both sides requested a delay in a case, she said.
The attorneys, David McArtor and Adam Thurman accused the judge of not ruling on those decisions and leaving trial dates in place despite their requests for continuances. Her court issued a written policy saying that all final hearings before trial would take place by telephone, but if that hearing did not result in a settlement, then the parties must be prepared for an in-person hearing. The policy, they argued, put their clients under pressure to either settle their cases or forces them to come into a courthouse and risk exposure to the virus.
Kovack also told cleveland.com last week that the court was in the process of receiving about an approximately $10,000 grant from the Supreme Court to install video conferencing software that would replace all in-person hearings, except those where people show up to the courthouse and need an emergency court order like in a domestic violence case. Kovack hoped the technology would be in place by Friday.
Thursday’s opinion was per curiam, meaning it was unsigned and intended to speak for the court. Two justices, Sharon Kennedy and Melody Stewart, filed dissenting opinions in which they said they would deny the attorneys’ requests.
Kennedy said that each court has control over its proceedings and the Supreme Court should leave it up to the judges elected to run those courts to determine which hearings are essential and which are not.
Stewart wrote that, because the in-person hearings were only triggered after a telephone conference, the court should not grant continuances in cases that had not yet been set for in-person hearings.
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— LawsInTexas (@lawsintexasusa) March 20, 2020
Judge facing Supreme Court action for holding hearings during coronavirus crisis
March 21, 2020
The Ohio Supreme Court has ordered Cleveland Municipal Court Judge Pinkey Carr to temporarily stop hearing cases after a complaint was filed against the judge for holding hearings during the coronavirus health scare.
Most court operations shut down several days ago to limit the number of people going into the building.
But Judge Carr still held hearings on a number of cases.
Wednesday, Carr spoke to the FOX 8 I-Team explaining why she still heard cases. The judge said she was there and had the hearings if the defendant showed up for court.
She also said she did not issue warrants for people who didn’t show up due to the coronavirus. However, the I-Team found several warrants were issued on cases where defendants didn’t appear.
“I checked the box saying they failed to appear but did not realize this triggered a warrant, that was not my intention,” Carr told the I-Team. “I never meant to issue a warrant. I don’t work in the clerk’s office and didn’t know this would happen.”
When the I-Team checked the docket Saturday on some of the cases, it shows Judge Michelle Earley, the municipal court’s administrative judge, had the warrants recalled and set for a hearing at the end of April.
An Ohio Supreme Court document says Judge Carr is not to hold any traffic or criminal cases and she has until Tuesday to respond.
However, the judge told us, Saturday, she has not been served with any court papers, so she isn’t ready to comment at this time.
Marcus Sidoti, a partner at the law firm Friedman and Gilbert, said he is very concerned about Judge Carr’s actions.
“We are in a time of unprecedented crisis. We must focus on clearing as many people as possible out of our jails and courts to ensure the safety of the public,” Sidoti said. “ Instead, Carr issued warrants for the arrests of people charged with misdemeanors, lied about it, then calls a caring, respected member of the defense bar a “little idiot” after inquiring about the court mandate excusing his clients appearance the following day. Judges cannot be permitted to substitute their personal opinions for the directives of the law, particularly when lives are at risk.”