Covid impacting legal processes in Jasper County

JASPER COUNTY, Mo. — It’s generally not a quick process to take a criminal suspect to trial.

It can take months and months in court and that’s without a global pandemic. But court proceedings are working toward a new normal in Jasper County.

How is it changing?

It’s everything from how you interact with a judge to how a trial takes place. Technology and flexibility have been crucial to the process.

Erik Theis, Jasper Co. Ct. Admin., said, “That’s the million dollar question right, you know, the future is uncertain.”

Erik Theis can’t be sure how local courts will be operating in a month or a year, but he knows the process is improving.

“You know, we’re probably one of the few circuits in the state that are continuing to do jury trials and but again we doing it in a safe and measured fashion.”

Trials are the biggest challenge. They involve a lot of people in one space.

Jasper Co. Judge Dean Dankelson, said, We would normally summons. Around 60 people to come in on a major case and they were pretty packed in at that point in time.”

There were no trials in Jasper County for the first few months of the pandemic. Then Missouri Southern agreed to let the courts use the former Joplin library space.

“It’s wonderful because we have all of this space.”

Lots of room for social distancing, attorney conferences and jury deliberation. They’re stocked up on PPE and even HEPA filters for a clean environment. It all gives them a chance to try and transition back toward more normal operations.

“And I think we have started that catch up time. I think everybody has a very busy trial calendar coming up. The Supreme Court has issued some Supreme Court rules to us. There are four phases that a court can be in. We are in the highest phase.”

Normally, Jasper County courts would have seven courtrooms that could be used for trial – right now there’s just one. A second space will open up this Summer when remodeling wraps up at the county courthouse in Carthage. There will be many, many more choices in the Summer of 2022 when construction on the courts building wraps up in Joplin.

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