Courts continue work despite low clerk's office staff and use Skype to work with public defenders

Floyd County sheriff’s deputies screen people before they enter the Floyd County Superior Courthouse on Fifth Avenue on Thursday.

Despite low staffing levels in the clerk’s office and a closing of the public defenders’ office because of a positive COVID-19 test of one of the staff, both Chief Judge Bryant Durham and Clerk of Court Barbara Penson feel optimistic about the state of Floyd County Superior Court.

The court reopened Monday following a two-week quarantine for employees. Several staff members tested positive for COVID-19 and the only way for other staff members to return was to test negative twice.

Now, the public defender’s office in the County Administration Building is dealing with a similar situation.

Penson said she’s had around six out of 19 staff members coming in and out of the office the past few days. Some of the staff is still waiting on their second tests to come back before they return to work. The clerk of court described the workplace as quiet, with few interruptions, but the workload as “staggering.”

“It’s been a big hurdle for us. We’re working through lunch to catch up,” she said.

Along with catching up on the previous two weeks’ backlog, the staff is also busy installing the new case management software ICON and efiling system.

The office won’t be back to full staff until July 6 at the earliest, according to Penson.

“It’s been very, very tough, but we’re resilient and this too shall pass,” she said.

Durham said some of the public defenders are calling in over Skype for certain matters, such as bonding cases. Right now, the judges are looking at setting up a way for the defenders to call in via Skype for arraignment cases as well.

Overall, Durham said things have been running “relatively smooth” at the courthouse the past week. The judges have been working together to make sure the court runs efficiently. Durham’s own secretary has experience as a clerk and has started helping Penson’s office out as much as possible.

However, according to Durham, not every court case needs a clerk present in the room so the court has been able to make do, for now.

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