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Bay County Courthouse opens, hearings on ‘limited schedule’


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Misdemeanor and family court are proceeding as scheduled, while hearings in felony cases are limited

PANAMA CITY — Under a mangled metal skeleton that used to be a canopy, dozens of people entered into the courthouse Monday to handle business put on pause by Hurricane Michael.

Almost three weeks since landfall of the historic storm temporarily halted operations of the courts throughout the 14th Judicial Circuit, all county and circuit courthouses as of Monday — with Bay, Gulf and Jackson counties coming online last — were opening for the first time since undergoing storm repairs and relocations.

Now, officials begin the tedious task of rescheduling hundred of cases that fell with deadlines during the closures.

Most of the functions of the courthouses — property records, traffic citations payments or domestic matters — are currently operational. As for criminal and civil hearings, though, the state of the current system is less clear.

Since each judge is a constitution officer, they are individually determining the priority of each case to schedule hearings. In Bay County, Clerk of Courts Bill Kinsaul said that any confusion can be cleared up by mail or phone.

“We don’t want to people to waste gas coming down here,” he said. “We will notice people of alternate hearings, or they can call and we’ll look at individual cases. We’re not going to be levying penalties if they don’t make their court appearances. We’ll get it all caught up and squared away.”

His office can be reached at (850) 763-9061.



Kinsaul said they are aware people lost their mailboxes and other means to receive mail and that his office will be trying to accommodate those with legitimate issues.

The Bay County Court administration building and financial office appear to be total losses to the storm. Employees in those offices had crammed into areas of the recently built annex building to continue services. Some had taken to trailers stationed behind the courthouse.

Potential jurors scheduled for jury duty were called off Monday, and there likely won’t be summons for a couple weeks.

Chief Judge Elijah Smiley said that during that time, felony cases throughout the circuit will be processed on a “minimal schedule.” Misdemeanor and family courts scheduled post-Hurricane Michael will be taking place on their court dates, Smiley said.

“If they have a meeting, they should report for that meeting,” he said.

Smiley was meeting with all the felony judges Monday to determine what their schedules will look like and which cases will take priority. He said it was tantamount to “triage” but said the judicial system in the circuit will continue to function.

“The court system is up and running,” Smiley said. “We’re functioning and we’re triaging. Our spirits are too large to be crushed by this or any sized storm.”

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