Macomb judge restricts court access after attorney tests positive for COVID-19

Macomb County's chief judge restricted access to the courthouse Thursday, responding to an order from the state Supreme Court and an attorney's complaint that he and others may have been exposed to the coronavirus during a hearing Monday.

Macomb County Administration Building, the Old Macomb Building and the Macomb County Circuit Court Building in downtown Mount Clemens

Warren lawyer William Barnwell started a petition drive Sunday asking Macomb County court officials to put restrictions in place in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Barnwell, 39, attended a hearing Monday morning before Judge Edward Servitto, only to learn later that another attorney who had appeared before Servitto around the same time had tested positive for COVID-19.

"I thought the person was joking," Barnwell said Thursday. "I've been exposed. To my knowledge, I don't have it."

"People with the black robes need to start listening to the ones in the white robes ... the experts, the scientists, the doctors" and realize that the COVID-19 outbreak "has indeed hit our doorstep," he said.

Amid cases reported across Macomb, the county confirmed Wednesday a positive test for an attorney who had been in one of the courtrooms in Macomb County Circuit Court. Several county employees were recommended to self-quarantine for 14 days, while the county’s review indicated "that it does not appear that there was any prolonged exposure to any other employees," representatives said.

On Wednesday, the Michigan Supreme Court ordered all trial courts statewide “to limit access to courtrooms and other spaces to no more than 10 persons, including court staff, and to practice social distancing and limit court activity to only essential functions.” Previously, the court had instructed courts across the state "to take reasonable measures to avoid exposing individuals to COVID-19."

On Thursday, Macomb County Chief Circuit Court Judge James M. Biernat Jr. issued an order limiting access to the courthouse in Mount Clemens.

"The court is currently conducting only the minimum necessary operations and limiting public access to address this health crisis," Biernat said in a statement.

The chief judge said in light of the incident involving the attorney who tested positive for the virus, the court has been in touch with the county health department and the State Court Administrative Office.

The judge said the county is cleaning and disinfecting the "affected" areas of the courthouse and that several employees who had contact with the affected attorney were notified and directed to self-quarantine for the next 14 days.

Biernat said the court is continuing to "revisit" its processes on a daily, "even hourly basis" to respond to the "evolving" situation.

Macomb County court officials were meeting Thursday about the situation and were not immediately available for further comment on the matter.

In Livonia, 16th District Court is closing to the public until April 6, court officials announced Thursday.

"During this closure, only essential services will be performed by the court pursuant to our emergency operational plan," the statement said.

Defendants already in custody will have their matters handled by video conferencing, court officials said Thursday.

All scheduled walk-in arraignments also have been canceled until further notice. Anyone with an outstanding warrant should report to the Livonia Police Department to post bond and receive a date for a future hearing.

All civil infraction hearings, including traffic and parking infractions, are being adjourned for at least a month. People whose cases are being adjourned will be notified by the court.

Jury selection and trials have been canceled until further notice and all misdemeanor pretrials are adjourned until further notice, the court announced.