SOUTH BEND — The Pacific County Prosecutor’s Office was informed around 8:15 a.m. on Nov. 13 of a covid-19 exposure, which resulted in the prosecutors’ office staff having to quarantine. The quarantine resulted in Joe Faurholt, acting on behalf of Pacific County Prosecutor Ben Haslam, appearing in court from his office via Zoom.
“Senior Deputy Prosecutor Joe Faurholt frequently covers the Superior Court Docket, and his coverage today was planned. It was not a result of staff needing to quarantine,” Prosecutor Ben Haslam stated via email. “I notified Judge Richter of the issue by 08:25 a.m.”
According to the court feed via YouTube, the prosecutor’s office was notified that someone had tested positive for covid-19, and the office would need to quarantine for at least 14 days. Faurholt explained the issue during several cases as the day was what many would call “chaotic” due to unforeseen circumstances.
On numerous occasions, the court was unable to proceed with a case because the paperwork was not present or ready, causing the court to schedule many for a week or two out. Judge Don Richter did scold the prosecutor’s office a few times, saying “documents can be sent electronically.”
“We prepare physical copies for all cases well in advance of hearings,” Haslam stated. “Paper originals are generally required by the clerk’s office for filing, and physical copies have to be provided to defendants.”
Haslam continued, “Because of the need to quarantine, I determined that providing paper copies that we had personally handled would unnecessarily risk exposure to others. We simply did not have time to prepare and distribute electronic copies today, but will do so next week.”
Defense attorney Harold Karlsvik, representing several clients during the Superior Court Docket, informed the court during his first appearance that he was also exposed to the virus through the prosecutor’s office, and that’s why he was present via Zoom. He reported that he had been in the prosecutor’s office several times this week and was isolating in an abundance of caution.
At least two out-of-custody defendants appeared at the court early, were informed of the situation and decided to leave before their appearances. Their attorneys told the court of the issue and that they were worried about the virus.
Defense attorney David Hatch spoke briefly about one of his defendants, Elizabeth Dawn Stuart, who showed up to court ill and said, “she was coughing rather loud.” She was also worried about being exposed to the virus, and he advised her to leave. He addressed Richter directly and requested the case be rescheduled, and no failure-to-appear warrant be issued.
“Many courts and prosecutor’s offices have canceled entire dockets under similar circumstances,” Haslam said. “I’m proud we were able to conduct the docket at all, despite the challenges.”
Richter did not issue any warrants for defendants who were not present in the courtroom because they were concerned about being exposed to the virus. Additionally, all trials within the next two weeks are being rescheduled as well.