ST. JOSEPH — Reporters and many visitors were turned away from the Berrien County Courthouse on Thursday as the court immediately put into place restrictions ordered by the Michigan Supreme Court due to COVID-19.
The preliminary hearing for Chris Glisson, the Coloma man accused of attacking a high school student on Feb. 20, was adjourned until further notice. Glisson, 51, a former Boys & Girls Club employee, is charged with assault with intent to do great bodily harm, a 10-year-felony. He earlier declined a plea offer of aggravated assault, a one-year misdemeanor.
Tat Parish, Glisson’s lawyer, said the adjournment was due to the Supreme Court order handed down late Wednesday. Rick Lull, head of security at the Berrien County Courthouse, said he and other management staff and judges were scrambling Thursday to interpret the court’s order and adhere to it.
In Administrative Order 2020-2, the Michigan Supreme Court ordered all trial courts statewide to limit access to courtrooms and other spaces to no more than 10 persons, including staff, and to practice social distancing and limit court activity to only essential functions. Ironically, Lull said by telephone that he was unable to be in a mid-morning meeting of staff and judges because he would have been the 11th person.
Lull said almost all court proceedings are adjourned until further notice because with the judge, bailiff, defendant, witnesses, lawyers and jail deputies there would be, in most cases, more than 10 people in the courtroom.
Previously, Michigan Supreme Court Administrative Order 2020-1 instructed courts to take reasonable measures to avoid exposing individuals to COVID-19.
“All trial courts must take immediate action to protect the public and court personnel by limiting activity only to essential functions,” Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget McCormack stated in handing down the new order. “The Supreme Court speaks with one, decisive voice: Courts must respond so that the policy is uniform all across Michigan.”
Van Buren County Courts closed to the public as well, according to a news release, except for essential functions involving health and safety and constitutional rights.
Essential functions include arraignments for in-custody defendants, review and determination of requests for search warrants and personal protection orders, certain child protective proceedings and critical issues regarding child support and child custody. The new order also provides courts with additional flexibility to conduct business using technology such as video and telephone conferencing.
“Courts statewide are taking this step in unison so that we send a clear message to the public that we are taking every possible step to stop the virus while continuing to provide essential services,” said Van Buren County Chief Judge Kathleen Brickley in the release. “Our team is adjusting as quickly as possible to the crisis, and we appreciate the support of the public as we work to put more business online in the coming days.”