Carter County Court back to normal ... sort of

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

VAN BUREN, Mo. -- Judicial personnel expect Carter County's court system to return to normal operation this week, but in a new location.

Located on the second floor of the Carter County courthouse, the circuit clerk's office and courtroom were not damaged when water from Current River inundated the historic building on April 30.

Since that time, the county has rented a building at 101 Highway W and moved in multiple trailers to house county offices and its sheriff's department. Officials say there also is space in the building that can be used as a courtroom.

"We actually moved our stuff over and set up the courts system," explained Associate Circuit Judge Michael Ligons. "It's pretty standard and should work out well for us."

Ligons said it was a matter of finding space for equipment and "trying to figure out how to get it all configured."

The court called a modified docket Wednesday.

"We're conducting business, but having to do it by a lot of different means," Ligons said. " ... What we are doing, we've utilized Shannon County some."

Court personnel, he said, have gone to Shannon County and used its computer system or used cellphone services, including iPhones and iPads.

Cases are filed and tracked electronically as they proceed through the judicial process.

"We're able to handle 95 percent of everything now; it takes a lot longer (and) is more difficult to go through" as there are "a lot more steps," explained Ligons.

On Thursday, Ligons said, court personnel was "waiting on our internet service and phone lines to get set up.

" ... We expect to be back completely online sometime next week."

While the court soon will be operational again, the status of some pending cases remains unknown due to possible issues with evidence.

Flood waters not only inundated the Carter County Courthouse, but also the nearby buildings housing the sheriff's department, including its evidence locker.

The department's evidence, Sheriff Rick Stephens earlier said, was not able to be relocated due to its "mass quantity and security concerns."

After the flood waters receded, the sheriff brought in members of the FBI and Missouri State Highway Patrol's Division of Drug and Crime Control to inventory, remove and check the status of all the evidence.

"The evidence was then placed in a secured facility under 24-hour police officer guard pending a destruction order," Stephens said.

What this means to pending cases is "open ended right now," said Carter County Prosecuting Attorney Amanda Oesch. "None of us really know. ... I think we are all in uncharted territory."

Officers, she said, are "still sifting through the evidence to see what can be saved and what can't."

Oesch believes what happens also depends on the type of cases.

"There are certain things that can be saved (such as) metal and stuff like that," Oesch said. "It will depend on the type of case, a drug case, assault case.

" ... I don't know enough information from the sheriff's department about what we can and can't save" at this time.

"Once it's determined what is "salvageable, then, I think, I have to review all my pending cases and make a determination as to what we can go forward with and what we can't," Oesch said.

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