CORONAVIRUS

Iowa courts will not succumb to virus, chief justice says

Justice Susan Christensen asks a question during a February 2019 hearing before the Iowa Supreme Court in Des Moines. Ch
Justice Susan Christensen asks a question during a February 2019 hearing before the Iowa Supreme Court in Des Moines. Christensen, now the court’s chief justice, said Friday that Iowa courts are still operating, albeit on an emergency basis, during the coronavirus restrictions. (The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Iowa’s courts are still operating, even if only at emergency levels, the chief justice of the state’s Supreme Court said Friday.

In an effort to help slow the spread of the coronavirus in Iowa, the state’s court system was largely shuttered by a March 17 order by Chief Justice Susan Christensen.

The order temporarily halted all criminal and civil trials, ordered all initial appearances and bond reviews to be held remotely and for in-person proceedings to be held only in cases of emergency, like protective orders for domestic or elder abuse, mental health hospitalization or the protective removal of children.

“In spite of these unprecedented measure measures,” she said during Gov. Kim Reynolds’ daily news briefing on the state’s response to the coronavirus. “I want you to know Iowa’s judicial branch is open for emergencies and essential cases every day.

“Even now, there are judges, clerks, court reporters, court administration and other judicial branch employees working in new and unique ways to serve Iowans,” Christensen said via a video call from her home in Harlan. The call was fed into the news conference at the State Emergency Operations Center at Camp Dodge in Johnston.

“I’m following your guidelines, governor (to stay home as much as possible),” Christensen said.

Christensen said the courts continue to work with other state agencies to ensure the protection of Iowa children and families, and to ensure prison staff and incarcerated individuals are protected from the coronavirus.

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She said the judicial branch also is working with county officials to ensure the safe operation of courthouses.

“As chief justice of the Supreme Court, I am constantly monitoring these changing events. The judicial branch will keep all Iowans informed on our website as significant decisions are made,” Christensen said.

“Access to justice may look a little different right now, and it may require a bit more patience. But it will not succumb to COVID-19.”

Comments: (563) 333-2659; erin.murphy@lee.net

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