Loyal readers of the paper, particularly those who look forward to our “crime and punishment” reporting, probably have noticed something missing from Page 7 since the pandemic struck.
The Barnstable County Court reports.
Each week, we printed a rundown of court arraignments and dispositions from incidents occurring in town. Our court reporter would gather the information by flipping through all the case folders in the Barnstable County District Court Clerk’s office. It’s a manual process. But worth the effort.
COVID-19 put an end to that, however. The virus closed the court.
When the court reopened after that initial shutdown, our court reporter thought he would be able to get right back to work. But he was turned away.
The reason he was given: For the safety of the clerks, they did not want any unnecessary people coming into the office.
But the clerk’s office in Falmouth District Court was open to our reporters, we told them. Our court reporter was allowed back in that clerk’s office to do her job starting in early October 2020.
But it’s different in Barnstable, the Barnstable clerk magistrate said. The office is just too small. He was also not too keen on us actually handling the files. It presented too much of an infection risk, he said.
We reluctantly accepted his rejection. What choice did we really have? So we waited. And we waited. Our court reporter would check in with the magistrate, but the answer was always the same. Not yet, he was told. No, we don’t know when you will be allowed to come back in, he was told.
And still we wait. Fifteen months and counting.
We started running the court reports years ago after we received a call from a reader asking if we could start publishing information about these court proceedings.
It was a reasonable request. After all, we print excerpts from the police logs and write stories about larger or more compelling crimes that happen throughout the week. It seems only fair to see the accused through the arraignment process and make public the final ruling in these cases.
While the writeups are black-and-white, cut-and-dry accounts of the proceedings, they are important in terms of closure. If we’re going to write about the misdeed, we should follow through on the punishment (or lack thereof).
We urge the Barnstable County District clerk magistrate to rethink his policy. Let us back in. The entire state has reopened. There is no longer a state of emergency in effect. Give us access to those files. Let us do our job.