Essential Workers: Courts


The Hon. Mark McConnell considers himself one of the lucky ones. He still gets to go to work and gets paid as COVID-19 continues to take a toll on people’s health and the economy.

However, the Dubois County Superior Court judge knows not everybody is as fortunate, and he empathizes with those people.

“My heart goes out to them,” McConnell said.

The courts remain an essential business during this time, but even they have changed the way some things are done. The judge is seeing a significantly reduced schedule at this time. A lot of court proceedings are on hold, including jury trials, because of social distancing.

McConnell said initial hearings are continuing for people who are arrested and in jail. This falls under the category of the emergency or essential hearings because somebody who is arrested and in jail must be brought before the court within 48 hours, barring weekends or holidays. Sentencings for people in matters already resolved are also happening. The court is continuing to accept plea agreements.

Dubois County hasn’t done any virtual hearings, but McConnell said some matters have been handled telephonically. He added that Dubois County Prosecutor Anthony Quinn has appeared by telephone for initial hearings, but Dubois County was doing this even before the virus.

McConnell also oversees the drug court program, but those sessions are also on hiatus. Participants are required to come to court at certain times, but McConnell said not getting that face-to-face interaction is detrimental to them. In person Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are also canceled. He said drug screens and case management meetings are still going on, however.

“I miss the interaction with folks coming to court — attorneys and all of that,” he said. “Our job has gotten kind of lonely lately, as is the case with most people.”

McConnell believes the courts are essential because the Constitution calls for the three branches of government. He noted how important of a role the Executive Branch is playing during this time, but the Judicial Branch is just as important.

“That branch needs to continue to work for the people as well,” McConnell said.

He was first appointed in 2008 by then-Gov. Mitch Daniels, and has since been elected twice in his own right. He considers it an honor and privilege to serve the people in Dubois County.

It means a lot to him that people in the county trust him with the justice system, but he admits things have gotten boring during this period. McConnell is currently looking to early May for things to get back to normal, as that’s when things have been rescheduled for.

“I just hope that the coronavirus is short-lived,” he said. “I’m hoping that as the weather gets warmer and people are distancing and hopefully some cures can be found that we can move past this as quickly as possible, and recover and get back to where we were before.”

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