The Cuyahoga County legal community connected on Wednesday to discuss how recent orders to reduce court operations affect attorneys and citizens now, and in the future.
In an unprecedented meeting using the group platform Zoom, more than 50 people discussed what has happened in the courts so far, current concerns of the legal community and what will happen when courts resume their regular operations.
The COVID-19 Legal Task Force is a collaborative effort between the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court and the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association. Administrative and Presiding Judge Brendan Sheehan suggested that the CMBA form the group, with lawyers representing all aspects of legal practice to make sure everyone has access to justice during the health crisis.
The Zoom meeting included the Administrative Judges and administrative staff from the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court General Division, Domestic Relations Court, Probate Court and Juvenile Court, along with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, the Eighth District Court of Appeals, the Cleveland Municipal Court, and Cleveland Housing Court Other participants included representatives of the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office, the Cuyahoga County Clerk of Courts, and the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, as well as dozens of private and non-profit legal practitioners.
During the more than 90-minute discussion, the heads of each court explained the steps they have taken to protect the public health during the COVID-19 crisis, while also protecting legal rights and serving the public.
After court updates, a number of attorneys voiced issues they have faced, acknowledging that the courts are operating on a limited basis to comply with the Governor’s orders and protect their employees, all while providing necessary and emergency services to the county’s citizens.
The participants applauded ongoing efforts to reduce the Cuyahoga County Jail population. Two weeks ago, the number of inmates was at 1,978. As of yesterday, it was 1,130. By focusing solely on cases of incarceration and emergency hearings, the jail’s population is down by more than 42%. This provides the jail necessary space to treat inmates suspected of having COVID-19, and alleviates potential staffing issues due to employee illness. As of Wednesday morning, no one in the jail had tested positive or for COVID-19.
The COVIC-19 Legal Task Force plans to meet weekly to continue the dialog.