Civil cases are going to take a backseat in Maine’s courts as the state presses to clear a backlog of of 8,800 felony criminal cases.
The courts had hoped to return to near normal operations this week while limiting the number of people in courthouses and using technology to hold remote hearings whenever possible during the pandemic.
But with the delay in civil proceedings, money judgments, disclosures, small claims, land use violations and other civil matters will not be scheduled or heard before 2021, the Bangor Daily News reported. Foreclosures will not be scheduled or heard before Feb. 28, 2021.
Those actions will help the state get a handle on a backlog of criminal cases that the state’s acting chief justice called “staggering.” Many defendants in those cases are being held in county jails unable to post bail.
Andrew Mead said he did not know how long it would take for the courts to deal with the criminal case backlog as judges continue to deal with emergency matters.
“Cases that involve risks of people being hurt or killed or that involve constitutionally protected liberty interests are at the top of the list,” Mead said. “At present, with our limited resources, the higher-level priority cases are essentially filling the dockets.”
Thaddeus Day, president of the Maine State Bar Association, and Christian Lewis, president of the Maine Trial Lawyers Association, told the newspaper that their members are concerned about how long civil trials could be delayed.
Before the coronavirus pandemic struck, it took two or three years from the time an initial complaint was filed for a trial to be set.
“As these delays continue, we grow more and more concerned about the rule of law,” Day said. “If we can’t provide Maine people with a forum for settling their disputes, it could start to erode the foundations of our democracy.”
Vermont has had its first coronavirus-related death since July, state health officials say.
The death reported Saturday brings the virus death toll in the state to 59 people, according to the state Department of Health. No details about the patient were disclosed.
It was Vermont’s first virus-related death since July 28.
The state also reported more than 60 new confirmed cases combined Saturday and Sunday, and has now had nearly 2,400 confirmed cases since the pandemic started.
Gov. Phil Scott urged vigilance in a tweet Saturday.
“Wear a mask. Keep your distance. Avoid crowding. COVID cases are developing at the fastest rate since March. We can’t let our guard down. Be smart/stay safe,” he said.
Youth hockey is back in Massachusetts but with new guidelines in place to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
Ice rinks across the state reopened Sunday for the first time in about two weeks after being shut down a because of several COVID-19 clusters linked to games and practices.
The new rules include face coverings on and off the ice, a limited number of fans in stands, and a limit of one game per day per team.
Rinks and hockey organizations face fines if they don’t cooperate with contact tracing, something Gov. Charlie Baker had cited as a problem when he shut down rinks late last month.
Health officials in the Berkshires are working to prevent a coronavirus outbreak in the Pittsfield public schools after a staffer at one school tested positive.
The case was detected in a staff member at Conte Community School on Friday night, according to The Berkshire Eagle.
The elementary school will remain open on Monday, but students assigned to the classroom used by the staff member will switch to remote instruction through Nov. 20, interim Superintendent Joseph Curtis said.
Contact tracing is underway and all contacts will be tested even if asymptomatic.
New Hampshire health officials on Sunday reported 249 new confirmed coronavirus cases, 25 of whom are under the age of 18.
Although four new hospitalized cases were reported, there were no new deaths attributed to the disease, according to the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.
The 7-day rolling average of the positivity rate in New Hampshire has risen over the past two weeks from 1.21% on Oct. 24 to 2.82% on Saturday. State health departments are calculating positivity rate differently across the country, but for New Hampshire the AP calculates the rate by dividing new cases by test specimens using data from The COVID Tracking Project.
The 7-day rolling average of daily new cases in New Hampshire has risen over the past two weeks from almost 88 on Oct. 24 to more than 165 on Saturday.
A drive-in theater in Rhode Island is moving up its start times so movie fans can get home in time to comply with the state’s new coronavirus curfew that takes effect Sunday.
The Rustic Tri View Drive in Smithfield usually starts movies at 7:15 p.m., but start times have been moved to 5:45 p.m.
The curfew announced last week by Gov. Gina Raimondo requires entertainment businesses to close at 10 p.m. on most days, and at 10:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
General manager Holli St. Jacques tells The Providence Journal the theater hopes to remain open into December, weather permitting.
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