PRINCETON — Plans were being made Tuesday at the Mercer County Courthouse to provide the public with court, county clerk, assessor, circuit clerk and other services while minimizing personal contact as a precaution against coronavirus.
The courthouse was closed to the public Tuesday while elected officials worked on plans to provide services to the public. The Memorial Building and the Mercer County Animal Shelter were closed, but animals there were being cared for. Glenwood Park’s facilities were closed, but the park itself was open for visitors.
The circuit court, magistrate court, county clerk’s office, county assessor and other offices drafted plans to serve people while the courthouse remains closed to the general public. County officials held morning and afternoon meetings to draft the new procedures.
“As long as we continue moving in this direction, we’re going to be fine,” Commissioner Greg Puckett said. “Now is not the time to panic. Now is a time to be prepared, and I think if we do that and everybody has a responsibility in doing that, we’ll be fine. It’s just going to take some time to get through this.”
“We have a hotline if people have general questions at 304-431-8555,” Puckett said. “We can direct them to the right place. That’s not a medical hotline. That is a courthouse business hotline just to direct you to right place.”
Each county office issued a statement outlining how it will work with the public.
• Magistrate Mike Flanigan issued a memo Tuesday to all law enforcement agencies, Mercer County 911, the Mercer County Circuit Court and the county mission. He described the procedures the Mercer County Magistrate Court will follow to help comply with terms issued by the state supreme court.
“The on-call magistrate shall conduct initial appearances as needed,” Flanigan said. “This is only temporary, and is the best way to keep officers and defendants from being exposed at the regional jail. Officers with a defendant under arrest shall contact the 911 center to call out the night duty magistrate. The night duty magistrate shall come out and conduct the initial appearance forthwith. The night duty magistrate shall remain available for the taking of DVPs (domestic violence petitions) and PSOs (personal safety orders) when called.”
• Mercer County Clerk Verlin Moye asked the public to come with only urgent business matters.
“Please at this time...only extremely urgent business matters are to be considered,” Moye said. “Record requests such as Birth, Death, Marriage, Deeds, etc. should be made to: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 304-487-8313 or 8312.
Moye listed the following phone numbers for county clerk business:
Urgent Fiduciary Matters: 304-487-8412 for appointments or questions.
Attorneys, Surveyors, Abstractors by appointment only: 304-487-8313 or 8312.
Only extremely urgent marriage licenses will be considered, he said.
“Please, if you are not feeling well or have cold or flu symptoms, give us a call for prequalification and assistance,” Moye said.
• Assessor Sharon D. Gearhart said that as of Tuesday and until further notice, the Mercer County Assessor’s Office will be closed to the public for walk-in service.
Supplemental tickets will only be processed by calling 304-487-8377, 304-487-8319 or 304-487-8318 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
“Please have ready your vehicle registration card and provide the name or names on that card(s),” Gearhart said. “After processing the supplement by phone, you will need to contact the Sheriff’s Tax Office for payment and receipt. The receipt will be mailed, faxed or possibly emailed. You will need to speak to a Tax Deputy about this issue, and its urgency.”
• Sheriff T.A. Bailey had a department protocol for the COVID-19 virus. Certain changes in the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department Operating Procedure will be temporarily altered.
“The Mercer County Sheriff’s Department will present arrested person(s) to the on-call magistrate shortly after arrest. The sheriff’s department will not transport arrested persons to the Southern Regional Jail until they have been presented to the magistrate,” Bailey said.
“The Mercer County Sheriff’s Department will attempt to limit exposure to the public by handling minor business over the phone, if possible,” Bailey said. “DVP and Civil Service Process will continue to be served as usual.”
Bailey said the department will provide minimal administrative staffing. Some delays are expected in processing some paperwork to include police and accident reports. A night shift dispatcher will not be available. The public is to contact 911 after office hours.
“Traffic citations issued by deputies will have a report date starting April 10 or after,” Bailey stated. “Traffic offenders are urged to conduct business by phone or mail to resolve them.”
“As this situation is very fluid and can change by day or by hour, there may be instances of immediate change in procedure,” Bailey said. “Changes in protocol will be posted promptly as they arise. The Mercer County Sheriff’s Department will continue our tradition of professional in serving the public.”
• Mercer County Clerk Julie Ball described how the Mercer County Circuit Clerk’s Office will conduct business.
“A drop box will be at the front door for all court staff, attorneys, attorney’s secretaries, and general public to file non-emergency documents,” Ball said. “If we have someone that is Pro-Se filing for a divorce, they will need to have all documents notorized, if filing a waiver all proof of income will need to be attached or will not be approved and must pay with certified check or money order. If someone has a true emergency filing we will allow one person at a time to enter into the office after answering the general health questions that our security guard will ask.”
“If someone has additional questions upon a filing, I will leave a list of our employees and their extensions with the security guard,” Ball said.
• The Mercer County Family Court will for the foreseeable future hear domestic violence and other emergency hearings on Tuesdays each week, according to a statement from the court’s judges.
“Beginning Monday, March 23, 2020, each family court judge will hear non-emergency cases via telephone on a case by case basis,” according to the judges. “If parties object to a telephonic hearing, a continuance will be granted in accordance with protocol issued by the Administrative Office of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.”
“Staff will be available by telephone to answer questions from litigants between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and noon and 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. The contact number for Mercer County Family Court is 304-487-8423,” the family judges said.
• Prosecuting Attorney George Sitler said although the Mercer County Courthouse is closed to the public until April 10, his office will still be open for business Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
“Staff will be available to assist the public,” Sitler said. “The main office number, 304-487-8445, will connect you to the menu of staff telephone extensions.”
“While some staff will be working from home, the messages will be regularly checked and answered,” Sitler said. “Attorneys and staff will be on duty during regular business hours throughout the coming weeks to deal with emergency matters.”
Contact Greg Jordan at email@example.com