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Canady aims to avoid ‘unnecessary risk’ as the courts work to resume normal operations

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Supreme Court Justice Charles T. CanadyWith the COVID-19 pandemic now claiming more than 100 lives a day, Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady said it’s unlikely the courts will return to normal operation any time soon.

“The idea of getting back to jury trials any time in the foreseeable future, in a way that is going to be at all like we had before this hit us, is probably unrealistic,” Canady said.

Addressing a July 17 meeting of the Board of Governors, Canady said plans for a phased reopening based on local conditions have been dealt a setback by the resurgence.

“Some places are in much worse shape than others, but this has not been a really rosy picture anywhere,” he said. “It’s not like we can say that there is a circuit in the state where the virus, to at least a certain extent, has not been on the march.”

Canady reiterated his pledge to avoid “unnecessary risk” when it comes to lifting his March order suspending jury trials.

He recalled the advice he recently gave his wife and children.

“I’ve told them that in times like this, the virtue of patience is an important virtue,” he said. “Patience will keep us from doing things that we will regret later.”

However, Canady said, the Supreme Court’s special COVID-19 work group is continuing its mission.

“We have in place the framework, for when things do hopefully turn around, we can inch back toward doing some things in a more normal fashion,” he said. “But it’s going to be inching, it’s going to be tentative.”

Despite the rising death toll and an infection rate that surpassed 327,000, trial courts continue to hear essential matters, Canady said.

“The real work, hard work…in terms of managing the branch, is going on in the individual courts,” Canady said, adding that chief judges in each of Florida’s 20 judicial circuits deserve much of the credit.

“They’ve got operational decisions they’re making hour by hour, because they do have people in the courthouse, some proceedings are taking place in person, because there is no way to do it otherwise,” Canady said.

Meanwhile, the courts are conducting thousands of hearings using Zoom and other videoconferencing platforms. The 11th Circuit earlier this week completed the state’s first partially remote jury trial as part of a five-circuit, voluntary pilot program that Canady authorized for civil trials earlier this summer. The non-binding trial used Zoom for jury selection and a mixture of strict health protocols and extensive protective gear for the in-person proceedings to hear an insurance dispute that arose from Hurricane Irma in November, 2017.

President Dori Foster-Morales told Canady that she is planning a series of virtual town hall forums across the state and will share the feedback she gets from Bar members with court officials.

Earlier this week, the board’s COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery Task Force conducted its first meeting and will develop recommendations as soon as possible, Foster-Morales said.

“We are very mindful of everything that you discussed and we are hoping to be a partner with you in making sure that the justice system runs smoothly,” Foster-Morales said.

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