PIKEVILLE — The response to the COVID-19 pandemic has affected many aspects of daily life in the commonwealth, and Kentucky’s court system is no different.
Like many agencies and organizations, in March, the Kentucky Supreme Court issued orders effectively closing as much of the courts as possible to public traffic, while still allowing for vital operations to continue. A newly-issued set of orders has set June 1 as a re-opening date for the court system.
However, according to Eddy Coleman, chief regional circuit judge for the Mountain Region, which encompasses 22 counties, including Pike, Floyd, Johnson and Perry, the June 1 date will not see courts simply reopen with no restrictions.
Coleman participated in the decision making process by the Kentucky Court of Justice, participating in a task force and committee on the matter and told Appalachian Newspapers that, while courts will reopen June 1, they will be taking steps to gradually reopen, protecting the public and court personnel in the middle of the pandemic.
“We’re not opening the courts as much as we’re gradually opening the courts,” he said. “We’re kind of following the model of the executive branch.”
The courts have continued operating through the pandemic shutdowns, but Coleman said the only matters on which courts have held hearings were those that could not wait.
“Under the Supreme Court rules, the only hearings I’ve had are in-custody criminal defendants and I’ve had them in several different jurisdictions,” he said.
Coleman said the hearings have been done using Zoom videoconference.
“We were only supposed to do emergency civil hearings,” he said. “I believe I’ve only had one actual hearing to come out of that.”
The June 1 date, he said, is important, but people need to be aware of changes they’ll see.
“The most important thing about June 1 is the court will resume hearing civil and criminal matters,” he said.
However, he said, the order does not mean a resumption of normal activity to pre-COVID-19 levels.
“There’s an order that tells us that we are to continue to use remote proceedings unless there’s some reason you can’t do a remote proceeding, then you can do an in-person proceeding,” he said.
Any in-person hearing, he said, should only be attended by those directly involved in the case, such as the parties involved and the attorneys.
Masks will be required to be worn inside the judicial center, even by jurors, and closed bags will not be permitted into the hearings, in an attempt to assist court security to be only required to do a visual inspection.
That mask requirement, Coleman said, even applies to employees, who must wear them when interacting with others.
“Employees can remove their mask if they’re in a private office area,” he said.
Coleman said the courts will continue to work with the procedure that only 50 percent of the courthouse employees be in the building at a time, with the other half working from home.
That, he said, will require planning at the local level, as each courthouse will have to make decisions that help them comply with the Supreme Court’s orders.
“We will have to enter local rules to help us adopt these orders for our particular locale,” he said.
An example, he said, regards the requirement that courts only allow 33 percent of capacity in at a time.
“We’re going to have to stagger our hearings so we don’t have too many people in the courthouse at one time,” he said.
That will require the courts to also consider the number of court personnel which may be in the building at a given time.
Some of the other measures included in the Kentucky Supreme Court’s orders include:
• That the presiding judge ensure that microphones, tables and other exposed surfaces are thoroughly cleaned at the conclusion of hearings;
• That jury trials resume no sooner than Aug. 1, though grand jury proceedings may resume immediately, and may be conducted via telephonic or video technology;
• That all filings must be mailed, eFiled or conventionally filed using a dropbox outside the judicial facility;
• That payments for court costs, fines, fees and restitution be made by money order mailed to the circuit court clerk’s office or by cash or credit card by calling the clerk’s office. Pre-payable citations can be paid online through ePay at, kycourts.gov; and
• That court personnel self-administer a temperature and health check before reporting to work and that individuals, whether the public conducting court business, or court personnel, not enter the building if experiencing symptoms.
Guidance on the resumption of driver’s licensing services, the Supreme Court order said, will be issued at a later date.
Those involved in either civil or criminal proceedings should stay in contact with their attorneys to monitor for changes and also for updates on any local rules that may impact their case. Court dockets may also be accessed on the Kentucky Court of Justice website at, kycourts.gov.