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Clerks to reschedule court cases

Second Circuit District Court clerks (from left) Teri Nemoto, Charlene Pinheiro and Michelle Richardson help a man reschedule his court case Tuesday morning at Hoapili Hale, the state Judiciary building in Wailuku. District and Family Court clerks staffed a table set up on the first floor outside the building, following Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald’s order Monday afternoon to significantly reduce in-court appearances until after April 30 to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19 in the courts. The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo

WAILUKU — Clerks helped people reschedule their District and Family Court cases, and some inmates appeared by videoconference for court hearings, as measures were implemented Tuesday in 2nd Circuit Court to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19.

In some courtrooms, no more than 10 people were allowed at a time, with other attorneys and defendants waiting outside until their cases were heard.

The changes followed an order issued Monday afternoon by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald to limit in-person court appearances except for emergency and time-sensitive matters.

On Tuesday, 2nd Circuit Chief Judge Richard Bissen issued three emergency orders covering proceedings in Circuit, District and Family courts.

Circuit Court trials were ordered rescheduled to dates after April 30, along with face-to-face conferences, hearings and motions, except for arraignments, extradition hearings, bail hearings and essential hearings.

While District Court criminal and traffic cases involving incarcerated defendants and essential hearings will proceed, cases involving defendants who aren’t in custody are being rescheduled to after April 30.

In Family Court, temporary restraining orders, juvenile detention hearings, civil commitment hearings, emergency guardianships and Child Welfare Services cases are being heard, along with adult arraignments, bail hearings and preliminary hearings in felony cases. Divorce and paternity matters, nonemergency guard-ianships, adoptions, noncustody juvenile matters, Child Welfare Services trials and Family Court Drug Court are being rescheduled to after April 30.

“The mass-scale suspension of court operations affect all attorneys and litigants, with incarcerated criminal defendants probably being the most prejudiced,” said Damir Kouliev, president of the Maui County Bar Association. “The community will also suffer from the temporary absence of the Self-Help Center, although the site hawaii.freelegalanswers.org/ can provide access to attorney volunteers, remotely.”

The Self-Help Center, staffed by volunteer attorneys, had been open Mondays and Thursdays to provide free legal information to people representing themselves in District and Family Court civil matters.

On Tuesday, glove-clad District and Family Court clerks staffed a table set up on the first floor of Hoapili Hale, the state Judiciary building, to divert people before they went to the third floor for court hearings. Their court dates were rescheduled to dates after April 30, in keeping with the court order.

Rescheduling notices were to be mailed to people with court dates starting next week.

Some inmates who normally would have been transported to court from Maui Community Correctional Center instead appeared by videoconference from the jail while their attorneys were in court Tuesday.

Some deputy public defenders argued for defendants to be released because of the potential for contagion in the jail.

“Facilities have incredibly high infection rates,” Deputy Public Defender Rachel Miyoshi said in a motion seeking release for Joseph Montelongo, who was charged with first-degree electronic enticement of a child. “Mass incarceration has become a public health liability.”

Wailuku District Judge John Breen said he might have been willing to maintain Montelongo’s $20,000 bail in light of the virus but decided to raise bail to $100,000 in keeping with another defendant charged with the same offense.

Except for essential hearings, face-to-face hearings were being rescheduled until after April 30 for Drug Court, Mental Health Court, Veterans Court, Environmental Court and Special Services Unit cases.

Grand jury sessions were postponed until after April 30.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.

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