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District courts reduce access

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Blair County courts are again adopting rules to reduce in-person proceedings and interactions in light of recent increases in local COVID-19 cases.

Starting Monday and continuing through Dec. 11, there will be no walk-in case filings or fine payments at magisterial district courts, based on an order signed Tuesday by President Judge Elizabeth Doyle.

Those interested in filing cases or making online payments should contact the appropriate district justice office for instructions.

That order, and an order Doyle signed Friday extending the county’s current judicial emergency through April 30, authorizes and encourages county and district court judges to use video and audio communication devices to conduct summary trials, hearings and conferences, or if preferable, to delay those matters until a later date.

“The number of persons in Blair County and in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania infected by COVID-19 is at its highest rate since the beginning of the pandemic,” Doyle said in her order. “The number of persons hospitalized in UPMC Altoona is the greatest since the beginning of the pandemic.”

The order addressing the district courts also specifies that barring extenuating circumstances, preliminary hearings shall only be held for incarcerated defendants.

Meanwhile, district judges retain the discretion of addressing non-emergency matters or delaying them. Matters requiring in person appearances at a district judge’s office can be scheduled in advance with an appointment.

Doyle’s order addressing county court operations also allows in-person court appearances, at the discretion of the presiding judge.

Those granted permission to be in court are expected to wear protective masks and practice social distancing. Accessing the court hearing through technology is also an option.

Friday’s court order also acknowledges the canceling of jury selection proceedings scheduled in November, for trials to be conducted in December. The next review of pending trials is scheduled for Jan 23.

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