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Chief Justice suspends most face-to-face legal proceedings due to COVID-19

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Chief Justice suspends most face-to-face legal proceedings due to COVID-19

Due to COVID-19, most face-to-face legal proceedings in the state courts will be suspended for a minimum of two weeks under a statewide order issued Friday afternoon by Florida Chief Justice Charles Canady. The order takes effect Monday.

Instead, Canady authorized local judges to use remote electronic means of conducting legal proceedings whenever possible. The order will be extended or modified as needed in the future and is subject to existing constitutional requirements.

This is the first time a limit on face-to-face proceedings has been ordered since Florida’s state courts system was unified by a constitutional amendment approved by state voters in 1972.

In the Friday order, Canady said these measures are needed because a public health emergency exists in the state courts. The emergency requires social distancing to reduce person-to-person transmission of the COVID-19 virus, the order said.

“Social distancing” is a public health measure designed to slow the spread of infectious disease by eliminating face-to-face meetings. It includes holding meetings using remote technology.

Under the Florida Constitution, the state’s chief justice is the chief administrative officer of the state courts system and can issue orders with statewide effect.

Canady’s order follows other emergency orders issued by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and state and national officials. The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic earlier this week.

Florida’s state courts system first began extensive emergency preparedness planning for infectious diseases in 2002 following the anthrax attacks in Florida a year earlier. Those plans were updated and deployed during the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic.

State court officials recently updated those planning materials again after the virus that causes COVID-19 emerged in China late last year.

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