UNION, WV (WVNS) — For nearly three years, Monroe County has operated without a courtroom. Monroe County officials are fighting a battle on two fronts as they try to hold legal proceedings without a building, while also practicing social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2018, the Monroe County courthouse closed after mold was discovered in the building. Since then, officials continued to go back and forth between finding a new location, or renovating the building. Ultimately, they did not get any closer to either plan.
Up until the start of pandemic, all court proceedings took place in the county’s family courtroom, which is in the basement of their volunteer fire department. However, due to COVID-19 safety protocols, Justin St. Clair, the Prosecutor for Monroe County, said they could not hold a grand jury trial.
“Monroe County has a grand jury in January, May, and September. It meets three times a year and the last time the grand jury met in Monroe County, it will be a year next Tuesday,” St. Clair explained.
In a grand jury trial, a witness is questioned by the prosecutors in front of a grand jury. At the end of the trial, the jurors will vote whether to issue an indictment or not. With out it, St. Clair said a years worth of cases are at a stand still.
“Since last January, every felon that has been arrested, except for the ones that agreed to enter a plea, a case is waiting to be presented to the grand jury so we have quite a backlog of cases right now,” said St. Clair.
St. Clair said there are approximately 67 cases on hold at the moment, with a countless number of cases on the way. He said it is the largest backlog he has encountered. He believed part of the reason an increased number of felons are requesting a trial is because they realize it will delay the inevitable.
“It’s kinda ludicrous because the juror is going to hear them say they did it come right out of their mouth, but knowing that we don’t have anywhere to have a jury trial. I have seen a lot of that,” said St. Clair.
St. Clair said he gets calls every week from officers who are upset and feel like they are arresting people for no reason. He said those are not the only calls he received
“I completely understand, I have upset victims who are angry who feel like nothing is happening,” said St. Clair.
April marks three years since the courthouse closed. St. Clair said he hopes they do not reach the milestone. He said the longer they go with out a grand jury trial, the longer the next trial becomes.
“So when we do have a grand jury it is going to be quite a lot of work, it is going to hit us all at once,” said St. Clair.
59News spoke with Monroe County Judge Robert Irons as well, who said he also is optimistic about the future of the situation.
St. Clair said the next grand jury is set for Jan. 11, 2021, but he does not believe that will happen. He said they will more than likely call a special grand jury session as soon as they are able.