Law and Justice Center File, L&J

Law and Justice Center file art from Oct. 18, 2017.

Support Local Journalism


Subscribe


Attorneys expressed frustration over policies and procedures at Gallatin County’s courthouse after a defendant who was sentenced Wednesday in justice court tested positive for coronavirus.

Adrienne Ellington, the man’s attorney, said the man told her that he was concerned because he felt ill earlier in the week. He told her a roommate had been around coworkers who tested positive for COVID-19 and asked if she thought he should get tested.

“I said of course,” Ellington said, “because those could have been COVID symptoms, and you have a duty to protect everyone around you if you were positive.

“I immediately told him to put on a mask, even though no masks are required in that courthouse.”

The hearing took place in Judge Bryan Adams’ courtroom on Wednesday. However, West Yellowstone judge Richard Gibson presided over the proceedings. The defendant, whose name was not released, was not in custody.

The defendant got tested after the hearing. Ellington said he disclosed to her that the test came back positive.

The courtroom prior to the hearing was full, she said. Ellington waited outside with other attorneys before the hearing because the lack of room to sit 6 feet from other people.

Ellington said she elected to self-quarantine, despite the health department not requiring it. She was told it depended on the amount of exposure she had to the infected person.

“The information is just, from everyone, is confusing and conflicting,” Ellington said.

She said she was frustrated with the lack of procedures at the courthouse.

Annie DeWolf, regional public defender, agreed.

DeWolf knows three attorneys who are quarantining for various reasons, including Wednesday’s hearing. She said those attorneys are awaiting the availability of a test to tell whether they contracted the virus.

“I am frustrated,” DeWolf said. “I spent a good part of the day talking about this with my boss, the Office of the Public Defenders, and trying to figure out how I could keep the attorneys safe.”

With staff already stretched thin, she said, it’ll be a challenge to have attorneys who are required to quarantine. However, she said, being at the courthouse “feels like we’re just exposed without much protection because we have to keep doing our jobs.”

“Someone needs to take leadership over what is happening in these courtrooms to make sure it is safe,” DeWolf said.

Ashley Carroll prosecuted Wednesday’s case and said the health department advised her she did not have to quarantine on Thursday.

Matt Kelley, Gallatin County health officer, said the health department is working on a number of cases and was unaware of the specific case. He said health officials would do contact tracing, work with justice court and figure out where the infected person was in close contact with other people.

Kelley said the health department wouldn’t require the courts to close.

“The utility of closing a facility is fairly limited, as long as a person who is infected is no longer there,” he said.

Kelley stressed the importance of wearing face coverings and distancing 6 feet from another person, especially in indoor settings where people frequent.

“That could help slow the spread of the disease,” Kelley said.

Support Local Journalism

To see what else is happening in Gallatin County subscribe to the online paper.

Freddy Monares can be reached at fmonares@dailychronicle.com or at 406-582-2630.