St. Tammany justice system uses video conferencing to continue operating through COVID-19 crisis

Updated: Apr. 7, 2020 at 3:34 PM CDT
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ST. TAMMANY PARISH, La. (WVUE) - Lawyers and judges in St. Tammany Parish are taking new steps to keep the judicial system operating while maintaining social distance.

It is a sign of the times. Keeping out barricades at the once bustling St. Tammany Court House but the business of the court goes on.

“We are continuing to work. We just can’t conduct trials to move those cases along,” says 22nd Judicial District Judge Richard Swartz.

Thanks to Zoom video conferencing, judges and attorneys say they are able to handle the vast majority of motion hearings and other court matters.

“I am very excited about it because it’s part of an overall move toward technologies to increase our efficiencies and decrease our costs,” says Washington-St. Tammany Parish District Attorney Warren Montgomery.

The closure of the courthouse three weeks ago forced court officials to speed up a move toward increased technology called the Odyssey System that was created in 2019.

“We have been fortunate emerging with case management technology we installed about a year ago,” says St. Tammany Clerk of Court Melissa Henry.

The DA says Coronavirus and the new technology has helped reduce the jail population in Covington and across the state.

“I am told the jail is in good shape and there were very few people in the holding cell,” says Swartz.

“On a state-wide level, 10 to 15 percent fewer people are being held in jails,” says Montgomery.

The virus has left a mark on some criminal justice staffers.

“We have a department head who tested positive and we’ve had employees with family members who have tested positive,” says Henry.

And while they all hope for a speedy recovery, they are taking steps to limit the Coronavirus’ spread using technology at a rate that was inconceivable until very recently.

Justice officials say they are able to handle a majority of their cases through Zoom video conferencing technology. But they re not able to conduct trials. So far, they say that is not an issue.

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