How Washington County is handling court cases during COVID

Published: Nov. 11, 2021 at 5:35 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont is dealing with a crisis at several county courthouses, where cases are languishing because of the pandemic and restrictions imposed by the judiciary. Meanwhile, other courts are back in business.

Many of the holdups are due to buildings the judiciary says are unfit and unsafe to host trials.

Nine counties are struggling with insufficient HVAC systems. Others don’t have enough security staff.

Some, like Orleans County, haven’t held a trial since the start of the pandemic and are dealing with massive case backlogs.

In Franklin County, a judge and prosecutor are working together to toss hundreds of misdemeanor cases to get that court moving again.

So how are things going at courthouses that are open for business?

Washington County State’s Attorney Rory Thibault says they started jury trials in Barre in May and have had four so far. Washington County’s criminal division is open for business thanks to an updated HVAC system.

Thibault says going into the pandemic with a healthy caseload also helps. And prosecutors, defense attorneys and judicial staff are expediting cases when they can, even if it means a more lenient outcome.

“Our self-assessment was we needed to be looking more to diversion encouraging law enforcement to directly refer more cases to community justice center and really emphasizing the limited time we have on the cases that really mattered, predominantly, violent crime,” Thibault said.

Orleans County hasn’t had any jury trials since COVID hit because of problems with the courthouse. They are asking the state to create a temporary space so they can at least start trials in their own county. No word yet on when that might happen.

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