York County criminal court shut; public defender worker positive for coronavirus

York County criminal court shut; public defender worker positive for coronavirus
York County shut after public defender worker tests positive for COVID-19 (Source: The Herald)

YORK COUNTY, S.C. (The Herald) - Most of the criminal court functions in York County have been halted after an employee at the Moss Justice Center in York tested positive for coronavirus, officials said.

A person who works at the 16th Circuit Public Defender’s Office at the Moss center criminal courthouse tested positive, York County officials said.

The building houses the public defender, prosecutors, judges, clerk of court, magistrates, and has several courtrooms. It is in the same Moss center complex next door to the York County Sheriff’s Office and county jail where almost 300 inmates are in custody.

York County Clerk of Court David Hamilton, who has authority over the courthouse, said circuit court criminal court hearings have been postponed and both the public defender’s office and 16th Circuit Solicitor’s Offices have been closed for the remainder of the week.

The clerk’s office also canceled the June grand jury term scheduled for Thursday, Hamilton said.

“We believe this is the safest course of action,” Hamilton said.

B.J. Barrowclough, 16th Circuit Public Defender, said he and other court officials are trying to work out details to hold some hearings using video later this week.

Court officials will decide by the end of the week if the closure extends into next week.

The clerk of court office, which handles payments, court documents and other administrative functions, remains open, Hamilton said. County magistrates offices that handle lower level cases also remain open, as does court security, Hamilton said.

People who come to the Moss center are encouraged to wear a mask but are not required to do so, Hamilton said.

No jury trials have been held at the courthouse since March after the S.C. Supreme Court postponed all trials amid the coronavirus pandemic. In recent weeks, the court has handled some hearings in-person with limited access inside courtrooms.

The criminal courts at the Moss center had a disruption in 2018 after bedbugs were found in the building.

York County has had more than 850 positive cases of Covid-19 since the pandemic began in March. Other public officials who tested positive earlier in the pandemic included employees from the sheriff’s office, Clover Police Department, and Fort Mill Police Department.