Many local court dates postponed to April 30 or later because of COVID-19

  • FUJINO

  • DE LIMA

  • RECKTENWALD

The wheels of justice, oftentimes slow in Hawaii County, have become even slower because of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the order of Hawaii Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald, Interim Third Circuit Chief Judge Melvin Fujino earlier this week issued a set of emergency orders aimed at limiting the number of people who must appear in person at Big Island courthouses during the COVID-19 crisis.

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“These significant limitations on our operations are necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19,” said Recktenwald. “Our foremost concern is to protect all individuals who come in contact with the court for any reason.”

The orders postpone all criminal trials, whether jury or non-jury until after April 30. Grand jury panels, which usually convene twice monthly in Hilo and Kona, are also suspended until after April 30. All treatment courts, including Drug Court and Veterans’ Treatment Court, are also postponed until after April 30, as are all HOPE Probation hearings, with the exception of those deemed to be essential by the presiding judge.

Change-of-plea and sentencing hearings will go on as scheduled unless the parties request a postponement until after April 30.

All District Court criminal and traffic cases involving defendants who aren’t in custody are also postponed until after April 30.

Criminal matters that won’t be postponed include arraignment, plea and extradition hearings, initial appearances for felony cases, preliminary hearings for in-custody defendants, bail hearings and hearings deemed urgent by the presiding judge.

Hearings for temporary restraining orders, gun violence protective orders, emergency guardianship and most Child Welfare Service cases are also among matters that will be heard as scheduled.

All Circuit Court civil trials, jury and non-jury, also will be rescheduled to dates after April 30, except proceedings deemed urgent by the presiding judge.

All Probate Court matters are suspended until further notice.

Proceedings will be held by telephone or videoconference when practical, according to orders.

The Judiciary is also asking anyone who has a fever, cough or other respiratory symptoms; who has traveled out of Hawaii in the past 14 days; or who has been in contact with anyone who has the COVID-19 coronavirus or who is suspected to have COVID-19 to not enter courthouses. Anyone who falls under those categories who has a scheduled court date should call their attorney and/or the respective court for guidance.

“This is an unprecedented situation,” Hilo attorney Brian De Lima said Thursday. “We’re in an emergency situation and the chief justice issued orders and the chief judge of the Third Circuit issued orders that are practical and take into account the safety of the community and the users of the court system.

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“And I support, without reservation, the orders that have been issued.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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