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Coronavirus has jail lawyers worried about safety

During a meeting of prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, and court staff last week, a representative from the Seattle City Attorney’s Office warned that attorneys there were struggling with “moral issues” amid the ongoing spread of COVID-19.

Chief among their concerns: coming to and going from the downtown jail. One of the courtrooms for Seattle Municipal Court is inside the jail, and prosecutors were becoming increasingly worried about their daily visits there and being caught in the facility in the event of an outbreak among staff or inmates.

“The City Attorney’s office is handling moral issues with worry about jail lockdowns and attorneys being quarantined in the jail,” read minutes from the March 9 meeting provided to Crosscut. “They are requesting to immediately go to an every-other-day calendar to minimize the frequency at the jail.”

The attorneys’ fears moved a step closer to reality Tuesday: a spokesperson for Public Health — Seattle & King County said a correctional officer had tested positive for COVID-19, the first in any of King County’s jails.

A spokesperson for the jail said the officer had not come to work for the eight days prior to his positive test.

Still, the ill correctional officer and the concerns of attorneys and advocates illustrate the extent to which the new coronavirus is stressing government institutions, the criminal justice system among them. As society contracts in an effort to contain the virus’ spread, law enforcement is restrained in how far it can recede.

Courts at Superior, District, and Municipal levels have suspended jury trials and pushed off nearly all nonessential businesses. People not in custody who are waiting for a hearing will see delays.


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