A set of closed hearings were held Thursday in Emporia Municipal Court for dozens of defendants, several of which were Emporia State students, who were cited at a house party for underage drinking in late September.
No in-person access or virtual access, such as streaming, was allowed for the public or press to view the hearing, according to Mike Henderrson, a municipal clerk.
Emporia State University Police also file traffic and misdemeanor ordinance violations in the municipal court.
Since reopening in June, Judge Ted Hollembeak stated that municipal court hearings have been closed to outside observers, without his approval to remotely record or otherwise broadcast a given hearing. Hollembeak’s approval has to be sought two weeks in advance.
“When court started, the judge (Ted Hollembeak) began by asking if there was anyone that was waiting for their turn that would like to request a diversion to raise their hands,” said Mike Henderson, court services officer at the Emporia Municipal court. “Nearly all of them requested diversions.”
Diversion is a program in which the defendant agrees to fulfill the obligations decided by the court in order to avoid conviction. Those who requested diversions were given a two-page sheet informing them of their rights, responsibilities and eligibility factors that may impact their approval for a diversion. It also warned that failure to appear for a scheduled court hearing may result in the issuing of a bench warrant for their arrest.
“This is what you fill out for any diversion request,” Henderson said. “It’s the same for MIC’s, MIP’s, speeding tickets or whatever else.”
The courtroom was set up to seat just over 30 individuals at a time, with seven spots at the bench for court personnel, such as the judge. According to Henderson, the court does its best to abide by the suggested 45-person limit to gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As you can see, with all the defendants in here, (a reporter) wouldn’t have had much room,” Henderson said.