New courthouse had busy first year despite pandemic

The new Johnson County Courthouse in downtown Olathe opened a year ago in the middle of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. During its first year of operations, court activities were done differently – in-person and virtually – and remain that way.

Health and safety protocols were established and enforced in 2021, continuing with the new year. That included a decision to place jury trials on hold, effective Jan. 10 until Feb. 14, due to current wide spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. All other hearings will take place as scheduled and will be a hybrid of in-person and remote depending on the nature of the case and hearing.

Security screenings of people entering the courthouse declined from a year ago, but the Tenth Judicial District Court, also known as Johnson County District Court, in the new courthouse was busy since opening on Jan. 7, 2021.

“We are extremely proud of our continual ability to pivot and provide quality services during the pandemic whether it is in remote or in-person,” said Court Administrator Laura Brewer. “The district court continues to make safety our top priority. Most of our hearings are still held remotely with in-person hearings done only when necessary, especially with the recent spike in COVID cases.” 

In 2021, 3,053 marriage license applications were filed in the new courthouse. The district court had 19 jury trials; 65,674 criminal, juvenile or traffic hearings; 26,300 civil hearings; and 1,737 probate hearings. Jury trials were modified with guidance from health officials.

“During jury selection, multiple rooms are used to stream proceedings to allow for social distancing,” Brewer said. “Jurors seated in the jury box remain masked and are separated with plexiglass dividers. Deliberations are being held in the courtroom as opposed to the jury assembly room as the courtrooms provide the ability to comfortably maintain six-feet distance.” 

Court security officers of the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office screened 135,955 people entering the new courthouse in 2021. 

Heading into the start of 2022, the health and safety guidelines at the new courthouse continue to follow recommendations from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment. Masks and physical distancing are required in all courtrooms but are not required in most other public areas inside the building. Courthouse employees must wear masks and practice physical distancing. Unvaccinated visitors are strongly encouraged to wear a mask while in the courthouse. Free masks are available upon entry.

“Our pandemic response team continues to meet every two weeks with local health officials to ensure we are operating in the safest manner possible,” Brewer said.

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