Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Monroe County Courthouse is now closed to the public until further notice.

County commissioners made an announcement of the closure Sunday, two days after Monroe Circuit Judge Robert A. Irons issued an order that public access to the circuit clerk’s office would be restricted until April 10.

Both the judge and the commission noted that courthouse offices would continue to be staffed, but that business would be transacted primarily through technological means, including telephone, email and, in the case of the circuit clerk, a secured drop box, if available. U.S. mail is another alternative to in-person contact that was mentioned in the commission’s media release.

“Out of an abundance of caution, and in accordance with the most recent guidelines and best practices recommended by the Center(s) for Disease Control (CDC) and the WV Department of Health and Human Resources, this action will reduce exposure to both customers and employees,” the commission’s statement indicated.

The commission said the plan will be re-evaluated regularly and may change accordingly.

The decision to close the courthouse marked something of an about-face for commissioners who, Irons noted in his order, had declared a state of emergency for the county but “refused to restrict access to the office” of the circuit clerk.

“(A)llowing continued public access to this office and its employees will endanger the personnel working in this office, as well as their families, and encourage the spread of disease,” Irons wrote in his Friday order.

He said that several employees in the clerk’s office “have family members who are at high risk of death or serious injury” if exposed to the coronavirus.

Irons cited an administrative order handed down by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals on March 16 authorizing the state’s courts to take steps to manage dockets and proceedings “in a manner designed to protect the health and well-being of court employees, litigants, witnesses, jurors, attorneys and the general public.”

And then on Sunday, the Supreme Court declared a judicial emergency to reduce in-person proceedings in all of the state’s courts. That administrative order also sets an ending date for the changes of April 10.

“Medical experts have consistently advised that in-person contact should be eliminated in all instances where such limitation is possible,” Chief Justice Tim Armstead said in a media release about the high court’s order.

“We believe it is our responsibility to limit such in-person contact to the fullest extent possible while ensuring that our courts address emergency matters necessary to protect the health or safety of our individual citizens and our communities.”

Those emergency matters include such issues as domestic violence, physical custody cases involving an imminent threat to the health or safety of a child, criminal initial appearances, bond hearings, search warrants and matters initiated by public health officials to enforce orders related to the COVID-19 crisis.

— Email: talvey@register-herald.com

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