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Chief Justice Canady urges patience as the courts work on pandemic recovery plans

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'To sum it up, we want to move as fast as we can, but not faster than we can do so safely'

Chief Justice Charles Canady

Chief Justice Charles Canady

Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady is assuring Bar members that the courts are working diligently on a COVID-19 pandemic recovery plan.

Addressing a March 30 Florida Bar Virtual Town Hall Forum hosted by President Dori Foster-Morales, Chief Justice Canady cautioned that the pandemic continues to pose “ongoing challenges,” and he continued to urge patience.

“There’s going to be a lot of questions about how fast we can move,” he said. “To sum it up, we want to move as fast as we can, but not faster than we can do so safely.”

The hour-long forum drew more than 300 registered participants and featured anonymous polling. Certified for 1 CLE, the forum can be viewed here.

Dori Foster-Morales

Dori Foster-Morales

In addition to the chief justice, Foster-Morales, and President-elect Michael Tanner, chair of the COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery Task Force, other panelists included Ninth Circuit Judge Lisa Munyon, chair of the Workgroup on the Continuity of Court Operations and Proceedings During and After COVID-19, and 20th Circuit Judge Margaret O. Steinbeck, chair of the Trial Court Budget Commission.

Judge Munyon said the workgroup is preparing packages of proposed rule changes, including amendments that would facilitate greater use of remote technology, and in cases where the parties agree, remote jury trials.

“Lawyers, anecdotally at least, have told me they really appreciate the ability to appear in court virtually, especially for motion calendars, ex parte, short motion hearings,” she said. “It saves them time, and it saves their clients’ money.”

The rules packages have yet to be filed, Judge Munyon said, because the work is painstaking.

She said that in the future, judges may likely receive more discretion to order virtual hearings.

“I would encourage people to pay attention to those publications when they come out and to make comments, because the more eyes that look at the rule, the better the rule,” Judge Munyon said.

Tanner, who assumes the presidency in June, said the Bar is eager to work with the court to keep members informed.

“We would like to be the conduit from the courts to our membership about those rules changes; we would, I think, circulate those generally through the communications apparatus of the Bar,” he said.

Tanner said those notices will be posted on the Bar’s COVID-19 Pandemic Resources and Information webpage.

Judge Steinbeck, who has chaired the Trial Court Budget Commission since 2017, assured Bar members that her panel, consisting of judges and trial court administrators from across the state, is working with the Legislature. Lawmakers are nearly at the half-way point of their annual, 60-day session.

“In spite of our best efforts, we are anticipating that we are going to have more than 1 million cases above the norm when we start out our fiscal year,” she said. “The court is asking for additional resources from the Legislature so that we will have what we need to tackle those cases.”

Foster-Morales asked for examples.

“We have asked for additional adjudicatory resources as well as what we call case support resources…what can we give to civil judges to help them address their caseloads?” Judge Steinbeck said. “And those are components that are actually in the pandemic recovery plan. We’ve also asked for case managers and staff attorneys. In the military, we always called them force multipliers.”

In response to a question, Justice Canady said he is developing administrative orders for “certain categories” of civil cases that will feature aggressive case management.

“People are going to have to understand that when they come to court….they need to be ready to go. If they’re not ready to do that, then they probably shouldn’t be filing a complaint….That’s with a high level of generality.”

During the forum, participants responded anonymously to a series of pandemic-related questions.

Asked about their greatest challenge “from the perspective of practicing law,” 35% indicated an “inability to have informal discussions to work on resolutions,” followed by 30% who listed “introducing and handling evidence.”

Another 27% cited “being able to collaborate with clients and experts during proceedings.”

Asked which changes to the practice of law they would like to see continued, an overwhelming majority, 39%, responded, “increased work from home.” That was followed by 17% who cited “virtual evidentiary hearings,” 16% who cited “virtual depositions,” and 14% who listed “virtual mediations.”

An overwhelming majority of respondents, 91%, said they would prefer “when it is safe” for the Bar to offer meetings in a hybrid combination of in-person and virtual. Just 7% listed virtual only events, followed by 2% who listed in-person only events.

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