Elsenheimer and dog

Judge Kevin Elsenheimer in his home courtroom.

TRAVERSE CITY — Courtrooms may be shuttered, but those interested are still welcome at hearings.

“We have an obligation — court’s supposed to be open to the public,” said Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Noelle Moeggenberg. “Whether it’s because the courtroom’s full and we have to post it somewhere else, or because of a pandemic, they still have to be able to watch.”

Under the COVID-19 pandemic, that’s been via Youtube, according to 86th District Court Administrator Carol Stocking.

Each judge has their own channel, and they livestream each day’s proceedings. The videos are deleted at the end of the day as a security measure, Stocking said.

The recommendation comes from the Michigan Supreme Court, added 13th Circuit Court Judge Kevin Elsenheimer, so most courts should have an iteration of online streaming.

His courtroom has gone live for the last 2-3 weeks, and while viewership has been a tad sparse, it’s an important thing to keep available, he said.

“For people like family members or victims or other interested parties that want to monitor criminal cases, it seems to be a useful tool,” Elsenheimer said. “People can log on to Youtube and as the hearing’s going on, they can click on (a) judge and watch that set of hearings.”

He and fellow Circuit Court Judge Thomas Power, who mainly proceed over Grand Traverse County cases, have been conducting their hearings, sentencings and status conferences remotely for the past several weeks to maintain social distancing.

Those are conducted via Zoom — meetings only certain parties are allowed into.

“Defendants, victims, witnesses — people who are allowed to speak in court,” Moeggenberg said.

Viewers aren’t allowed into those, Elsenheimer added, to prevent any disruptions.

It’s worked so well, he added, that he suspects the higher court might keep the option in place beyond the pandemic.

“This is something that I think will be taken up at fairly high levels in Lansing,” Elsenheimer said. “We’re all learning about use of this technology for public access. At this point, it’s too early to make a determination, but I think there’s some value in it.”

Find links to view hearings by judge at the 86th District and 13th Circuit court websites.

See COVID-19 updates at www.record-eagle.com.

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