Chief expands list of court proceedings to be held remotely during the pandemic and extends jury trial suspension to early July
Acting on the recommendations of a statewide Court Continuity Workgroup, Chief Justice Charles Canady issued a new emergency order May 4 increasing the list of proceedings state courts will accomplish by remote technology during the coronavirus pandemic.
It also extends the current suspension of jury trials in Florida until July 2. It makes corresponding changes to some legal deadlines by pushing them back until the Monday after the July 4 holiday weekend. Canady said in-person jury trials pose a special hazard because they can expose jurors and other courtroom participants to a risk of infection and future extensions will be considered if needed.
For first-degree murder cases, the new order suspends until July 2 some requirements for in-person preliminary hearings and a requirement that defendants be automatically released from custody if prosecutors are unable to file charges within 40 days.
The order especially focuses on increasing the resolution of cases by shifting as many of them as possible into a virtual environment with remote technology. In addition to work already required under an April 6 order, the amended list now adds the following:
- Non-jury trials, except that all parties must agree to remote non-jury proceedings in criminal, juvenile delinquency, and termination of parental rights cases;
- Alternate dispute resolution cases;
- Status, case management, and pretrial conferences in all case types;
- Non-evidentiary and evidentiary motion hearings in all case types;
- Arraignments and pleas in absentia in county court misdemeanor cases;
- Hearings in juvenile delinquency cases;
- Hearings in noncriminal traffic infraction cases; and
- Problem-solving court staffings, hearings, and wellness checks.
Case types on this list will be held by telephone or other electronic means unless prohibited by the constitution or other law, or where one of the participants is unable to take part because of a lack of required technology or staffing problems caused by the pandemic.
Canady’s order embodies the first set of recommendations from the Workgroup on the Continuity of Court Operations, created by an April 21 order. The Continuity Workgroup was asked to submit recommendations as they are developed to guide a phased return to full court operations.
The expanded list of essential proceedings adds to earlier efforts to mitigate the impact of coronavirus while letting courts operate in a way consistent with public safety. Florida’s courts have followed emergency guidelines since a March 13 order, when Canady suspended jury trials and took other actions restricting in-person proceedings to enforce social distancing. Subsequent orders extended these limits through the end of May, subject to future orders made necessary by the pandemic.
Chaired by Orlando-area Circuit Judge Lisa Taylor Munyon, the 17-member Continuity Workgroup’s mission includes examining the current status of all court proceedings statewide that have been delayed by the pandemic. Where warranted, the Workgroup will propose methods for resolving cases with remote technology and other new procedures. Information about the Workgroup and its meeting minutes are available on its web page.
The move toward more virtual proceedings is a major historical shift in state court operations, which have relied heavily on in-person hearings in the 175 years Florida has been a state. Canady also has asked the Continuity Workgroup to make suggestions for remote procedures that can continue even after the pandemic is over.
All state-court coronavirus emergency orders and advisories are linked on the Florida Supreme Court’s website: https://www.floridasupremecourt.org/Emergency