EBENSBURG – As the state drops mask requirements later this month and more activities resume, don’t expect business as usual in Cambria County courtrooms, President Judge Norman J. Krumenacker III said on Wednesday.
“I want to say I’m going to follow the science more than the politics,” Krumenacker said during Wednesday’s meeting of the county prison board.
Under a state Supreme Court order authorizing president judges to set rules for each county, Krumenacker said he will update his June 30, 2020, order if and when Gov. Tom Wolf lifts more restrictions. The order requires most proceedings to be held by teleconference or other “advanced communication technology” to reduce in-person interaction and prisoner transports.
The order also requires masks for all attending in-person hearings, including visitors.
“I’m going to keep my order so we can continue to do business and not endanger anybody,” Krumenacker said.
Earlier in the meeting at Cambria County Prison, Warden Christian Smith estimated only 30 of the jail’s 115 employees have gotten a COVID-19 vaccine. Krumenacker said it could be as many as 38 employees.
“That’s beyond my wildest imagination,” Krumenacker said. “I don’t want to start transporting prisoners from the jail to the courthouse. I don’t wish to open up Pandora’s box.”
Most lawyers, judges, defendants and others participating in court action have embraced the teleconference option, he said.
The arrangement saves money by reducing the number of prisoner transport trips, he added, citing a report that estimated counties have saved $10 million by using teleconference options.
Krumenacker said his order will remain in place until 70% of Cambria County residents are fully vaccinated.
Wednesday’s Department of Health update said 10,589 are now fully vaccinated in the county, or about 39% of the population.
After Wednesday’s meeting, Krumenacker said his order is not tied to Wolf’s disaster declaration that legislators are pushing to end. He said his authority comes from the supreme court order through the judiciary branch of state government.
Randy Griffith is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 814-532-5057. Follow him on Twitter @Photo- Griffer57.