Chief Justice orders changes to state court COVID-19 guidelines including local flexibility in returning to in-person jury trials
Chief Justice Charles Canady issued two new administrative orders and a new “best practices” memorandum June 16 adopting changes to guidelines for state court pandemic operations recommended by his COVID-19 Workgroup. They include a new provision letting individual counties or local trial-court circuits return to in-person jury trials at different times based on local conditions.
The first new administrative order updates one originally issued April 6, 2020, providing comprehensive guidelines for state court operations in the pandemic. As amended, it now permits local variations in a return to jury proceedings and replaces an earlier blanket statewide suspension of jury trials through at least July 17.
Under the order, local chief judges now can remove the suspension of jury trials locally 30 days after determining that the trial-court circuit or a county within the circuit has transitioned to Phase 2 operations.
The second new administrative order updates one originally issued May 21, 2020, providing guidelines for state courts to move into Phase 2. As defined in the order, Phase 2 is when limited in-person contact is authorized for certain purposes in the state courts and may require protective measures.
Phase 3 is when in-person contact is more broadly authorized in the state courts with more relaxed protective measures. Phase 4 is when COVID-19 no longer presents a significant risk to public health and safety in the state courts.
The new memorandum updates one originally issued May 11, 2020, on “best practices” recommended for state court operations by the COVID-19 Workgroup. It includes new guidelines on jury management in the pandemic, a recommended priority for resuming civil and criminal jury trials once they are authorized, and management of trial evidence during remote pretrial hearings in criminal cases.
The COVID-19 Workgroup is charged in part with updating these guidelines continuously as pandemic conditions change and as new information about COVID-19 is developed by health authorities. It will continue to meet and advise the chief justice at least through December 31.
One of its duties is to recommend which changes made during the pandemic should be continued in state court operations after the pandemic ends.
The workgroup was first created in an April 21, 2020, order. That order and other emergency orders and advisories are being linked on the Florida Supreme Court’s website: https://www.floridasupremecourt.org/Emergency