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Alabama County Embraces Virtual ‘Picnic Court’ Concept

Officials call it the 'Picnic Court' in Prattville, Ala., and it involves respondents lining up on the lawn of the Autauga County, Ala., Courthouse to have their matters handled virtually via tech.

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(TNS) — They call it 'Picnic Court' in Prattville, Ala., where respondents line up on the lawn of the Autauga County Courthouse to have their matters handled virtually.

It's all part of the response to the coronavirus, and the limits placed on the number of folks who can go into public buildings. Tuesday is was child support court. Referee Walter Hayden, who presides in the cases, was set up in Courtroom Two.

Folks having cases heard lined up on the sidewalk for their turn under a blue canopy set up on the shady side of the courthouse. The docket kicked off at 8 a.m. with a long line stretching because of the social distancing requirements. By mid-morning the crowd had slackened off, as people waited in their cars to be called to appear.

"I think it's gone well," Circuit Clerk Deb Hill said. "Everyone seems to be patient and in a good mood. They are working with us."

There were a few technological glitches as the signal faded out from time to time as folks talked into a computer screen.

"Can you see me now?" was a phrase Hayden oft repeated.

It was the second lawn docket in Prattville. Two weeks ago Autauga District Judge Joy Booth held traffic court, to a much larger gallery.

"I didn't know what was going on," Melanie Bradford said. She drove by the courthouse on that day and wondered what all the fuss was about. "I guess you have to do what you have to do."

One advantage of the two virtual court days was each occurred in good weather. Although a few times stiff breezes Tuesday sent paperwork wafting away, setting up a mad scramble for the retrieval.

The Alabama Supreme Court re-opened in person court proceedings on Friday. But presiding circuit judges had the authority to push that date back. Autauga Circuit Judge Ben Fuller ruled courts in Autauga, Chilton and Elmore counties will open back up May 26.

The high court has suspended jury trials until Sept. 14.

The local courts are scrambling to adjust to the weeks-long suspension of in-person court proceedings, said Chief Assistant District Attorney C.J. Robinson. During the period, there were eight weeks of criminal trials missed, and a grand jury session in Elmore County delayed in the three circuit county. Three high profile capital murder cases are in limbo, essentially delayed until next year.

"It's been a struggle, but I think we have a good plan in place for when we re-open," he said. "It's difficult because victims and their families have been waiting for justice. And defendants have been waiting as well, wanting the opportunity to clear their names."

©2020 the Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Ala.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.