Providence Municipal Court closing due to coronavirus

Coronavirus
Providence Municpal Court_1551218747038.png.jpg

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Providence Municipal Court is closing until further notice because of the COVID-19 global pandemic, Judge Frank Caprio said Thursday.

Drivers can still pay their fines for traffic tickets, but will have to wait if they want to fight them. Caprio said all hearings and trials are being canceled, and new summonses with updated hearing dates will be sent out in the coming days.

The municipal court — which is located inside the Providence Police Department — holds hearings and trials on parking tickets, moving violations, tickets from red light and speed cameras, and certain environmental and housing issues that are not covered by the state and federal courts.

Outside of Providence, the courtroom is best known for being the setting of the nationally syndicated television show “Caught in Providence.”

“This extraordinary set of circumstances and the necessary decision we have reached is not something we have taken lightly,” Caprio said in a statement.

State and federal courts in Rhode Island — where the majority of criminal and civil cases are heard — have not announced plans to close. But a judge in Providence Superior Court declared a mistrial in a case last week after becoming concerned that the jurors were sharing a staircase with a different jury that had a member go home sick.

The U.S District Court has guidance on its website urging jurors not to come in for duty if they are sick, and to call the clerk’s office instead.

The federal court on Exchange Terrace does not garner nearly the crowd size that can often be found waiting in the municipal courtroom at the police department to fight their traffic tickets, nor does the Providence Superior Court or R.I. Supreme Court, which share a building on Benefit Street.

But the busy Garrahy courthouse on Dorrance Street is often packed with people waiting for district court arraignments or family court hearings, especially in the morning.

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza declared a state of emergency Thursday, announcing he was pulling all entertainment licenses and event permits for the next two weeks. He urged people to practice social distancing, and aimed to prevent crowds by restricting restaurants and bars to serving 100 people or fewer at a time.

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook

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