A defense attorney is self-quarantining for two weeks after talking last week at a district court with an unmasked state trooper who subsequently tested positive for COVID-19.
Masks are required in court facilities under a judicial order.
President Judge David Ashworth, who issued the order, said in an email Monday that he is “seriously concerned and disappointed with what appears to be the failure to comply with a direct administrative order. I can only assume the trooper in question was not fully informed of this court’s order.”
Those who may have come into contact with the trooper have been contacted, Ashworth said.
Ashworth said reopening the courts is a work in progress and he hopes people follow the order in question, which states:
“Individuals permitted access to any court facility will be required to maintain appropriate social distancing of at least 6 feet, to wear protective face masks or appropriate face coverings in common areas, and to comply with all safety directives provided by the court or county staff.”
Patricia Spotts is the defense attorney. She said she spoke with the trooper, whom she didn’t identify, in the lobby June 16, where they talked about a case she had.
“I commented that he should be wearing a mask. I didn’t specifically say, put one on,” she said Monday. Spotts was wearing a mask, “which is hopefully my saving grace,” she said.
Friday morning, she said, county court administration called to tell her the trooper was positive for COVID-19.
Spotts, who works in a small practice, said she now will have to reschedule a number of her cases while she is quarantining.
“We have to go to these places to represent defendants who are incarcerated, and it’s important that we be able to do our job and do our jobs safely. And I think that’s what the court order is trying to accomplish,” Spotts said.
William Benner was the district judge. He was covering for Judge Raymond Sheller at Sheller’s Intercourse courtroom. He didn’t see the interaction, and the trooper didn’t come into the courtroom, he said.
He said a constable is supposed to enforce the judicial order, and he told the constable early that day to make sure everyone was wearing a mask and keeping socially distant.
“Everyone who stepped foot into the courtroom had a mask on. I don’t know what was going on in the lobby,” he said.
Ashworth said the matter is still being investigated, but he contacted District Attorney Heather Adams, the county’s chief law enforcement officer.
Adams said she’s notified the Lancaster County Chiefs of Police Association and state police about the court’s order and said enforcement could include contempt of court.
Contempt of court is a possibility, but that’s typically used for repeated failures to comply after a person had been given the opportunity to correct their behavior, Ashworth said.
The Pennsylvania State Police was looking into the matter.