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Rapides IDB ‘will no longer personally appear in court’ until courthouse comes up with better COVID-19 plans

Chief Public Defender sends letter to Judge Greg Beard saying IDB will appear via Zoom
Published: Jul. 8, 2020 at 12:08 PM CDT
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ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - The chief public defender for the Rapides Parish Public Defender’s Office has submitted a letter to the chief judge of the 9th Judicial District Court stating that the office “will no longer personally appear in court” until the courthouse can come up with a “strategy that takes into consideration the safety of IDB lawyers, staff members, and their families” during the COVID-19 pandemic. News Channel 5 obtained two letters on the matter.

On May 11, Deirdre Fuller sent a letter to Judge Greg Beard detailing the measures that the Alexandria City Court and Pineville City Court have taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In that letter, she questioned the steps the 9th JDC would take to ensure the safety of people entering the courthouse, such as if plexiglass cubicles would be installed, if the courthouse would be disinfected prior to opening, how many people would be allowed in courtrooms, and if masks would be required in the building.

In a letter sent Tuesday, Fuller followed up on the initial letter to Judge Beard stating that she toured the courthouse a few days after she sent the May 11 letter to “personally see what efforts had been put in place prior to the reopening of court on May 18.” She said Judge Beard had explained that the following would be done before the courthouse reopened:

  1. Plexiglass dividers would be provided on the defense table
  2. Podiums would be removed from the courtroom
  3. Sanitation would occur regularly
  4. Hand sanitizer would be provided
  5. Clients would remain distanced from IDB attorneys
  6. Only 2 people at a time would be allowed on the elevators

Fuller said she agreed to Judge Beard’s plans. She also said that she was informed that Dr. David Holcombe, the Region 6 Public Health Medical Director, also toured the courtrooms and “declared that the efforts that were to be implemented as insufficient.” Fuller wrote that it was her understanding that the efforts outlined “have been marginally implemented or not at all.” Specifically she notes:

  1. Plexiglass dividers have not been installed at the defense tables, but a removable plexiglass partition that offers almost no protection has been made available to the lawyer
  2. Podiums remain in the courtrooms without any protective barrier around them
  3. Sanitation is performed sometime by inmates from the jail
  4. Hand sanitizer is available at the front door of the courthouse upon entry into the building and next to the elevator, but none is available to the attorneys in the courtrooms, in the conference rooms behind the courtroom or in the conference rooms located on each side of the courtroom
  5. Clients approach the podium and are not properly socially distanced from the attorneys
  6. The elevator policy is not enforced

Fuller goes on to write about multiple occasions that she said COVID-19 has spread in the courthouse, noting it “has spread to almost every floor of the courthouse.” Fuller writes that “it appears that it is still ‘business as usual’ at the courthouse and the fact that the world is in the throes of a pandemic and many people are becoming ill and some are losing their lives to this virus, is of no moment.”

Fuller ends her letter by writing that the IDB will be available via Zoom “when needed.”

The judge’s office has not yet responded to the letter. We spoke with Rapides Parish District Attorney Phillip Terrell who told us that his office has every intention on appearing in court when called to appear.

Copyright 2020 KALB. All rights reserved.

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