JEFFERSON — Ashtabula County Prosecutor Cecilia Cooper has activated the department’s Continuity of Operations plan.
The plan allows half of the department’s staff to work from home, while the other half works in the office. The two groups will rotate working from home and working in the office every two weeks.
The move is intended to ensure that the prosecutors office will be able to function during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Grand juries will continue to meet, but precautions will be taken to keep jurors sufficiently distant from one-another, Cooper said.
“Under the governor’s ‘stay at home’ order, he found that grand jury is an essential function, which makes sense because that’s how cases get through the felony criminal justice process, so we’re gonna still have grand jury every Tuesday,” Cooper said. “We’re going to try to keep it to half a day, with only the cases that absolutely have to go forward.”
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine issued an order closing all non-essential businesses in Ohio, and discouraging large gatherings, which went into effect at 11:59 p.m. on March 23. DeWine previously issued orders closing all schools, gyms, bars and restaurants.
Cases bound over from other courts must be put before a grand jury within 60 days of being referred to the prosecutor’s office. A request can be made to delay the grand jury proceeding, but that is not practical if the defendant is in jail, Cooper said.
Those who have business with the prosecutors office, or who have received subpoenas are asked to call ahead before visiting the prosecutor’s office.
“I think that everybody involved in the criminal justice system is doing everything they can to keep it running efficiently, but to keep everybody involved healthy,” Cooper said.
“Where possible, judges are doing hearings by telephone conference, or by video conference. Jury trials, if at all possible, are being looked at to be continued, so that the public isn’t in the courthouse any more than they have to be. But at the same time, we all recognize that there are important cases pending that have to go forward.”
The State of Ohio declared an Emergency due to COVID-19, and Ashtabula County declared a State of Emergency on March 18. On Monday, the Ohio Department of Health reported 442 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ohio, including three in Ashtabula County.
“We will continue to serve the public to the best of our abilities,” Cooper said.