Chief Justice creates Court Continuity Workgroup to recommend ways to steer the state courts through the COVID-19 pandemic
With Florida’s state courts now operating mostly through remote technology, Chief Justice Charles Canady issued a new administrative order April 21 creating a 17-member workgroup to recommend ways for a staged return to full court operations as the course of the coronavirus pandemic changes in the months ahead.
The workgroup is charged with finding ways for courts to operate as fully as possible during each stage of the pandemic. The workgroup will be chaired by Circuit Judge Lisa Taylor Munyon from the Orlando area.
The order identifies four stages of pandemic operations for the workgroup to study: (1) the period when in-person contact is rare; (2) the period when limited in-person contact may be authorized with precautions; (3) the period when in-person contact is more broadly authorized and precautions are relaxed; and (4) the period when coronavirus no longer is a significant risk.
Canady’s order directs the group to:
- Examine the current status of all court proceedings statewide that have been delayed by the pandemic and, where warranted, propose methods for resolving them with remote technology;
- Identify and propose solutions for legal issues, implementation challenges, and costs associated with the use of remote technology;
- Propose guidance based on the advice of medical and public health professionals for protective measures to allow the safe return of judges, personnel, parties, counsel, jurors, and the public to court facilities;
- Recommend the priority in which proceedings that require in-person hearings and trials should resume;
- Identify metrics to monitor case backlogs and performance;
- Identify which proceedings may continue to be held remotely even after the public health emergency has passed; and
- Identify issues that should be addressed in planning for future pandemics.
Canady’s order authorizes the workgroup to consult other stakeholders in the state’s justice system as well as public health experts, medical professionals, and specialists in pandemic management. It asks the workgroup to be mindful of addressing health and safety issues without overburdening the courts during this period of limited capacity and of weighing local needs against the need for a consistent statewide approach.
The order gives the workgroup authority to make broad recommendations and to identify changes that may be needed to court rules and protocols and to make proposals, if warranted, for the Legislature to change statutes. Recommendations of the workgroup will be sent to the Supreme Court as they are developed rather than waiting for a large final report.
Under the order, the workgroup will meet at least through June 30 with extensions possible beyond that date if needed. The Office of the State Courts Administrator will provide staff for the workgroup.
Florida’s courts have been operating under emergency orders since March 13, when Canady suspended jury trials and took other actions restricting disease-spreading activities. Subsequent orders have extended these limits through the end of May, subject to future orders.
The April 21 order and other emergency orders and advisories are being linked on the Florida Supreme Court’s website: https://www.floridasupremecourt.org/Emergency
The following persons are appointed to serve on the workgroup for a term that expires on June 30 or as may be provided by subsequent order:
- Philip G. Archer, State Attorney, 18th Judicial Circuit
- Chief Judge Kimberly C. Bonner, 12th Circuit
- Judge Hope Tieman Bristol, 17th Circuit
- Stacy M. Butterfield, Clerk of Courts and County Comptroller, Polk County
- Jay Cohen, Ft. Lauderdale
- Daniel DiGiacomo, Marshal, Fourth District Court of Appeal
- Howard L. Dimmig II, Public Defender, 10th Circuit
- Chief Judge Kevin Emas, Third District Court of Appeal
- Gary A. Hagan, Court Technology Officer, 14th Circuit
- Charles Hydovitz, Trial Court Administrator, Third Circuit
- Judge Christopher Kelly, Volusia County
- Judge Don H. Lester, Fourth Circuit
- Judge Janeice T. Martin, Collier County
- Chief Judge Michael T. McHugh, 20th Circuit
- Judge Lisa Taylor Munyon, chair, Ninth Circuit
- Chief Judge Bertila Soto, 11th Circuit
- John A. Tomasino, Clerk of Court, Supreme Court of Florida