Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Are masks required in courthouses in the Historic Triangle? 

The Williamsburg-James City County Courthouse. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)
The Williamsburg-James City County Courthouse. (WYDaily file)

The coronavirus pandemic has caused a shift in some procedures at courthouses around the state.

According to a Virginia Supreme Court order, anyone older than 10 whose health allows must wear a face covering to enter the halls of justice.

The high court’s order also allows for leeway within the building, leaving mask requirements within courtrooms themselves largely up to the discretion of the judges.

According to the Supreme Court, the presiding judge “may authorize” removal of a face mask to facilitate a proceeding.

“The requirement to wear a mask shall not apply to judges or magistrates to the extent they determine it inhibits their ability to effectively communicate.”

Williamsburg-James City County Sheriff’s Office Master Deputy Gail Kellum said masks are required inside the courthouses.

However, during court proceedings, the judge can ask the person being tried to take off their mask if the judge cannot understand them, Kellum said.

The deputy noted both individuals are more than six feet apart –– a distance commonly referred to as social distancing.

“Everybody is supposed to keep a mask on,” Kellum said. “The only time that they lower the masks is if the judge asks.”

“As long as they are social distancing, they are allowed to take the mask down, and speak to the judge and the stenographer, but the stenographer has never requested it.”

When security officers in the courtrooms see people lower their masks below their nose, they “tap them” to shift their mask.

Kellum said since the circuit court is a “court of record” and is transcribed, everyone needs to understand what the other person is saying in the courtroom.

“So when it goes into a court of record, everybody needs to hear what everybody is saying, but under no circumstances is anybody taking their mask down while not social distancing,” Kellum said.

Kellum added the courthouse has not had an “outbreak” yet and they do daily temperature checks as well as spray areas with disinfectant–– “anywhere people have been.”

York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Lt. Vincent Chiarello said the county is following the Supreme Court order. Masks must worn in order to enter the courthouse in the county.

“Whoever enters the courthouse must have a mask, and if they don’t have one, we supply them with one,” Chiarello said.

He also said judges are not forced to wear masks because they are at least six or eight feet away from anyone in the courtroom.

Even though they are not forced to wear them, Chiarello said every judge he has seen has been wearing a mask.

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Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsiglianohttp://wydaily.com
Julia Marsigliano is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She covers everything on the Peninsula from local government and law enforcement agencies to family-run businesses and weather updates. Before WYDaily, she covered Hampton and Newport News for WYDaily’s sister publication, HNNDaily before both publications merged in December 2018. Julia was born in Tokyo, Japan and moved to Long Island, New York in 2001. A true New Yorker, she loves pizza, bagels and good Chinese food. Send comments, tips and other tidbits to julia@localvoicemedia.com. You can follow her on Twitter at @jmarsigliano

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