Judge in Harris County still holding court despite COVID-19 fears

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- As we practice social distancing, the Harris County Criminal Courthouse is still open.

Jury services are suspended through the end of the month, but some people must still appear in court.

Judges are resetting dates when they can, but that's not always possible.

On any given weekday, the criminal courthouse is full of people.

Judge Darrell Jordan of Harris County Criminal Courts at Law No. 16 had 65 people on his court docket on Tuesday, but just six or seven showed up. Judge Jordan said he's working to limit who appears in court.

"My goal is to only have people who are having their first initial setting to come to court because those people may or may not need conditions. It's my job as a judicial officer to review their cases," Judge Jordan said.

In some cases, people must appear before a judge. In others, those cases can be set for another day. For those that must appear, virtual court has been talked about, but court proceedings must be public. Still it's something courts are looking into.

"I see my role no different than a first responder. I need to be at court to make the wheels function. We don't have the capability to do virtual court. There's rules about open court. We can't do things in private. So, right now, we're trying to find the perfect balancing act," said Judge Jordan.

Even with a smaller number of people, risks are still a concern because attorneys, staff, judges and defendants are in the courtroom.

While both felony and misdemeanor courts are making adjustments, Judge Jordan said keeping them going is important.

"The criminal courts are essential to law and order in our everyday lives. If we were to shutdown, literally, I believe you would have a system of chaos," said Judge Jordan.

Before heading to the courthouse, call first.

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