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Supreme Court Chief Justice Minton tells legislative committee this ‘was most challenging year’ ever

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

“The past 14 months have been the most challenging in the history of the modern court system,” Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John D. Minton, Jr., told a legislative panel on Thursday.

“I can think of no other event in my lifetime that has created a more prolonged disruption of the courts than the COVID-19 pandemic,” he testified before members of the Interim Joint Judiciary Committee.

Chief Judge Minton testifies. (Photo by Tom Latek/Kentucky Today)

During the pandemic, courthouses were closed, trials and other court proceedings were postponed. But Minton says they persevered.

“Despite the disruption and despite limitations on in-person traffic in our court facilities, I am very proud that the courts of the Commonwealth were never closed,” he stated. “Court proceedings were certainly unconventional, and I’m confident some of our judges could share some pretty amusing things they saw on Zoom Court, but through the hard work, dedication and extreme patience of our judges, clerks and court personnel, we managed to weather the storm.”

During his remarks, Minton expressed gratitude to lawmakers for providing the funding several years ago to implement a statewide e-filing system, as well as remote video conferencing technology, allowing them to continue conducting court proceedings.

“If the COVID pandemic had struck even a decade ago, our options for operating remotely would have been far more limited.”

He pointed out that the Supreme Court has lifted all restrictions for in-person proceedings.

“I know judges and clerks across the Commonwealth are happy to return to normal court operations. But I am committed to retaining some of the some of the lessons we learned during the pandemic, including the use of remote technology for conducting routine court matters, like motion hours.”

Minton told the committee that there was an informal poll of over 1,000 attorneys taken during the virtual Kentucky Bar Association convention this year. “The vast majority, 90% of respondents, said they would like remote proceedings to continue to be an option for civil motion hours. And over half agreed they would like to be able to participate remotely in civil hearings.”

He also addressed the backlog of court proceedings during the 14 months of the pandemic, saying Kentucky has fared better than other states.

“Our circuit civil case filings are down about a quarter from our normal filing rates. But we are seeing a huge rebound in the number of criminal cases that are being filed,” Minton said.

“Circuit criminal cases doubled between March and April of this year. In fact, April 2021 was our highest month of circuit court criminal case filings ever in recorded history.”

He attributed that to the return of in-person grand jury proceedings on April 1.

When asked by the committee if remote proceedings would enable the judicial branch to reduce its budget, Minton replied that the parties in the cases are the ones who benefit, as well as police who don’t have to transport prisoners across the state for court proceedings, and not the court system itself.

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