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The day county courts get shut down: a look inside district court in Columbia

Intelligencer Journal - 3/20/2020

The sharp smell of disinfectant hung in the air in Columbia District Judge Miles Bixler’s courtroom on Wednesday afternoon.

A cleaning service comes in twice a week, but given the coronavirus outbreak, Bixler had stepped up disinfecting by spraying all surfaces over lunch before afternoon hearings had begun.

Meanwhile, while police officers and attorneys waited for defendants to arrive, they chatted about the virus and its impact. At times, 10 to 12 people were in the courtroom, which roughly measured 15 by 50 feet.

Bixler asked one defendant at the end of her hearing if the waiting room was crowded. When she said it was, he asked her to remain in the hallway outside the courtroom while her paperwork was completed.

“Social distancing, social distancing,” one officer said as he approached an attorney’s table.

One defense attorney entered the courtroom wearing black gloves.

Another defense attorney returned to the courtroom after walking his client out from her hearing and began rubbing sanitizer on his hands from a bottle he had in his jacket pocket.

“If they’re going to close the liquor stores, I think they should really close the courts,” one officer joked.

He almost got his wish.

Later in the day, Lancaster County President Judge David Ashworth issued an order scaling back court business. Ashworth’s order Wednesday suspends face-to-face criminal hearings and other in-person court functions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The move, which took effect at 5 p.m. Wednesday, means the Court of Common Pleas on North Duke Street and magisterial district courts like Bixler’s across Lancaster County will be closed to the public, with few exceptions, until April 15.

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Crédito: DAN NEPHIN | Staff Writer