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President Judge Rules Against Closing Entire Allegheny County Court System Over Coronavirus Fears

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- The Allegheny County courts will remain open amid the coronavirus pandemic.

President Judge Kim Clark shut down the courthouse to in-person trials and hearings. But on Tuesday, a private attorney pushed for closing the entire court system.

Attorney Milton Raiford tried to make two cases. First, he wanted to indefinitely postpone the trial of his client, accused DUI defendant Vanessa Williams, on the basis that the courts are unsafe. Second, he wanted the entire court system shutdown.

"My client Vanessa Williams, she won, she got here postponement but not everybody won," Raiford said.

Judge Anthony Mariani grant the postponement but said he didn't have the power to rule on the latter. Trials and hearings will continue over teleconference only, but Raiford is upset the court staff will need to stay put.

"The people with less in their bank account, the people with less savings, the people who are teetering trying to make ends meet, we left them in the building," Raiford said.

A decision on shutting down the court system rests with President Judge Clark, but in an unusual move, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala filed a brief citing unsafe conditions throughout the courthouse and the district courts spread throughout the county.

This while one assistant district attorney is still suffering from coronavirus and another, Russ Broman, is back on a ventilator and in critical condition in St. Clair Hospital.

"Each day we brace ourselves for updates regarding those ADAs who have suffered the greatest, and each day we brace ourselves for news about others in our office who may have contracted the virus," the filing reads.

Zappala no longer wants his assistant prosecutors appearing in district courts and is making arrangements for them to appear only remotely. Likewise, Judge Clark says she wants to use teleconferencing whenever possible but issued a statement saying the court system will remain open.

"The continued operation of the Court is essential for those involved in the justice system, including the public, victims of crime, and those incarcerated and awaiting trial. Efforts are continuing to conduct as many court hearings as possible remotely through videoconferencing," Clark's statement reads.

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