“Ultimately, the bond of all companionship, whether in marriage or in friendship, is conversation.”
— Oscar Wilde
“My most brilliant achievement was my ability to persuade my wife to marry me.”
— Winston Churchill
With apologies to the author, the title of this column is a reference to the 1985 novel, “Love in the Time of Cholera,” by Gabriel Garcia Márquez, and the 2007 film of the same name. The reference fits, however, because it reminds us that despite the physical distancing restrictions of the current Covid-19 pandemic, and the steps that we are all necessarily taking as a society to slow the spread of the disease, certain realities of life continue.
Among the essential businesses required to continue operation in these times are the majority of local and state government functions. Though access to some government buildings has been curtailed, or requires an appointment, in order to control the number of people in those buildings at one time, county and city government continue to operate.
Our local court systems were among the first to react and to make adjustments as the pandemic unfolded. Even before the Stay-at-Home order was issued by the Ohio Department of Health, specific plans were in place in each of Delaware County’s courts to utilize technology to simultaneously keep court employees and the public safe, while still meeting all of the necessary duties of the courts.
In Juvenile Court, we continue to conduct hearings daily, but those hearings are now conducted by telephone or by videoconferencing functions such as Zoom and GoToMeeting. Our probation officers continue to check in on their charges, and our intake workers continue to review new cases and process them. Our assessment center is hard at work conducting assessments by phone and video, and making referrals for appropriate services. All of these functions are even more important in a time where kids are out of school and physically away from teachers whose concern for their students is often the first line in identifying problems.
Among our earliest actions was to adjust how we handled juvenile traffic matters. While most cases come to court one at a time, juvenile traffic cases, which typically total 750-1,000 tickets each year, come to court in a group setting, with five to 15 juveniles and their parents in the courtroom at one time. In early March, we moved to handling those tickets through a “traffic violations bureau” — an electronic resolution process permitted by Ohio law, which we will continue to use until it is safe to bring groups together in court again. Just this week, we heard that our friends at CarTeens — the driver education program that we require juvenile traffic offenders to attend — will be able to offer their course online.
In the Probate Court, we similarly are handling the majority of hearings telephonically. We have established electronic processes for adoption proceedings, guardianship hearings involving both children and adults, and just this week implemented a new practice to facilitate, well … love in the age of coronavirus. Because one thing that definitely hasn’t stopped is people falling in love. And that brings them to the court for marriage licenses. Ohio law requires that probate clerks visually observe the couple completing the marriage license application, and now a process is in place to do that electronically as well.
Our friends at Domestic Relations Court, Municipal Court, the General Division of the Court of Common Pleas, the Clerk of Courts and Municipal Clerk, the Prosecutor’s Office, and the Public Defender’s Office are similarly working hard every day to keep the court system running and to protect the rights of litigants.
Beyond the court system, the Auditor, Treasurer, Recorder, Engineer, and Commissioners’ Office all remain fully functional and open for business — either in person or electronically. And of course, we are all grateful for those in law enforcement, EMS, fire departments, education, our General Health District, and medical personnel, who are carrying on with their duties in the face of new and difficult circumstances.
Often overlooked among the front line workers, I am particularly thankful for the dedication of our children’s services caseworkers. They are often called to difficult circumstances, with little advanced knowledge of what they will find, and must investigate in person, no matter the health or safety concerns to themselves. But they do so because of their commitment to protect the well-being of children, and their dedication to that work continues through this pandemic.
This week, Department of Job and Family Services Director Bob Anderson and I will be joining the Delaware General Health District to bring you a special message. We want to encourage parents and caregivers everywhere to establish a plan, in advance, as to who will provide intermediate care for their children, should those caregivers fall ill from Covid-19 and temporarily be unable to provide that care. Whether it be grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors or family friends, it is important that those plans be considered in advance, rather than rushed in an emergency.
This crises, too, shall pass, and your county offices, agencies, and courts, are here to ensure their services remain available to you throughout.
David Hejmanowski is judge of the Probate/Juvenile Division of the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas. He has written a weekly column on law and history for the Gazette since 2005.