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Seven employees of District Court in Pittsfield test positive for COVID-19; more virtual hearings expected

Edward Jennings Arraignment (copy) (copy)

Judge Paul Smyth told attorneys in an email this week that several courthouse employees had tested positive for COVID-19. His notification comes amid a broader surge of the coronavirus in the community. 

PITTSFIELD — More hearings are expected to be conducted remotely in Central Berkshire District Court, after several employees recently tested positive for COVID-19 amid a broader surge in the community, officials said.

“It has very recently come to my attention that multiple court employees have tested positive for COVID within the past week,” Judge Paul Smyth, first justice of the court, said in an email to attorneys this week. “The individuals who tested positive were required to complete a list of individuals with whom they were in close contact.”

Seven employees of the District Court in Pittsfield have tested positive since Nov. 19, said Jennifer Donahue, a spokesperson for the state trial court.

Smyth said he was advised that “the individuals who were identified as being in close contact with the trial court employees who tested positive have been notified.”

“Due to trial-court policies governing employee privacy rights, I am unaware, or unable, to share any further details about the infected employees,” he added.

Smyth said the court will accommodate requests from attorneys who are not comfortable coming to the District Court out of concern for the coronavirus, provided that they are “consistent with the protection of constitutional rights” of defendants.

Several types of hearings, including nonevidentiary hearings on motions, status hearings, trial assignment conferences and criminal show cause hearings, will be presumed to be virtual, unless someone involved in the proceeding asks to appear in person.

The court did not hold a jury session Thursday, when, Donahue said, cases were resolved without trials. She said that was due “in large part to normal operating procedure,” but acknowledged that the Trial Court considers the health and welfare of prospective jurors before deciding to bring them in for service.

She said there are no more jury trials scheduled in Central Berkshire District Court this month. The trial of Joseph Thompson, former director of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, is set to begin Jan. 3.

Berkshire County is categorized as having high transmission of COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The federal agency recommends wearing masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, at substantial or high transmission levels, and a mask mandate has been in effect in the trial court.

Donahue could not say whether transmission of the virus occurred inside the courthouse.

“Pittsfield District Court is a very busy court, with many court users entering the space on a daily basis,” she told The Eagle. “We have no information as to how individuals contracted COVID.”

Amanda Burke can be reached at aburke@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6296.

Cops and Courts Reporter

Amanda Burke is Cops and Courts Reporter for The Berkshire Eagle. An Ithaca, New York native, she previously worked at The Herald News of Fall River and the Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise.

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