Fresno County courthouse taking extra safety measures amid COVID-19 outbreak

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- As the morning started at the Fresno County criminal courthouse, dozens of people lined up in close proximity to get inside.

They packed into several courtrooms for hearings, sometimes cheek to cheek with strangers.

Judges tried to clear out as many people as fast as possible, and in the capital murder trial underway right now, the judge cleared some space in the normal audience to enforce social distancing for jurors.

"The government has said 4-6 feet apart, so that's what we're doing," says Fresno County Superior Court Judge Jonathan Conklin.

Attorneys and defendants, some of them wearing face masks, complained to me about their forced appearances.

The defense attorneys, the district attorneys, the probation officers, everybody that has business in the court right now is at risk," says Attorney Eric Schweitzer.

Fresno County has only confirmed two coronavirus cases so far, and both patients acquired it during travel.

RELATED: Health officials confirm second COVID-19 case in Fresno County

Some court employees expressed concern about a defense attorney who just back from France that was forced to appear on cases Monday.

Courts are deemed essential, and the constitution requires certain hearings in a certain timeframe, but each county is allowed to adjust to the current emergency.

"We need clear cut changes to be made so that we're not brought into close contact with others at a time when social separation should be the order rather than the exception," Schweitzer said.

Other counties, like Los Angeles, San Mateo, and Ventura, have instituted changes, like allowing defendants to let their attorneys appear in court for them, allowing attorneys to appear by phone or video, and postponing nearly all cases except arraignments and emergency restraining orders.

The Fresno County court administrators met Monday afternoon. A decision on adjustments could come soon.
Copyright © 2020 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.