The New Order In The Court

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Legal proceedings have begun to begin again in Carter County and the rest of the commonwealth, although there are a few new rules and ways of getting things done.

“It’s efficient,” Assistant County Attorney Justin Criswell said after an online motion session before Family Court Judge David Flatt.

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“Normally this would be in the courtroom with all the attorneys,” he explained, noting he needed to get dates for a couple of cases as part of an overall plan to get the local court system operational.

“Everybody is trying to get everything caught back up,” he said.

Joined by a community journalist, the assistant county attorney was otherwise sitting alone in a back room of his office at a plain wooden desk with a photo background behind while conferring with court staff and a gang of attorneys who likewise worked alone together.

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“They say I look like I’m at an after-game press conference,” Criswell said with a laugh, explaining he already had the photo background with his law firm’s name and logo.

Criswell was seen and heard from one of the frames on his screen, sharing the session with Judge Flatt and staff, as well as attorneys Brandon West, Brian Bayes, Sharon Rowsey,  Malenda Haynes, Whitley Bailey, Marie Troxler, Mary Sergent, Derrick Willis, Natasha Kinnan, Jennifer Neice, Robin Webb, Laura Jane Phelps, Bob Miller, Jason Greer and John Thompson.

Rebecca Oney set up shop outside, working from a porch setting while Bob Miller wore a blue medical-style mask and operated with a sheet of clinical-looking clear plastic behind him.

“Bob Miller is needed in OR-2 right now,” Criswell joked, with his computer court session muted.

In a matter of minutes, the judge and band of attorneys had taken care of everything they needed to talk about. With none of the usual socializing, conversation and consulting which naturally happens during in-person sessions, Criswell said the online meeting method certainly seems to save time.

“Judges like it. That’s one of the things that’s been surprising,” Criswell said, explaining the new way “sort of forced everybody’s hand” at first as they worked out their computer access and arrangements. 

“It was kind of like, ‘This is how we’re doing it – Or we’re not doing it.”

Another time-saving aspect of  the new way is elimination of the need to travel to and from courthouses in Carter, Greenup and Elliot County.

“That has been a big change. You can have court in three counties in one day – Carter County at 9 (A.M.); Greenup County at 10 and Elliott County at 1 (P.M.). You spent your whole day driving. Now you just log on and do your business.”

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The judge and attorneys, along with court officials including bailiffs, returned to the actual courtroom and continued their Family Court duties in person that afternoon, observing strict rules regarding wearing of masks, social distancing and potential contact with those whose cases were to be considered. 

Judge Flatt allowed The Carter County Post to make a quick pass through his courtroom minutes before the afternoon session began.

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Story and Photos by TIM PRESTON 

Carter County Post

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