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Court’s COVID-19 Workgroup given more time to respond to comments

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Judge Lisa Munyon

Judge Lisa Munyon

The Supreme Court has given its COVID-19 Workgroup more time to respond to comments filed to a rules petition designed to facilitate greater use of remote court proceedings.

In her request for an extension, COVID-19 Workgroup Chair Lisa T. Munyon, chief judge of the Ninth Circuit, noted that the proposed revisions generated more than 100 comments, some late filed.

“There is insufficient time before October 21, 2021, for the 18-member Workgroup to meet to review, discuss, and determine the appropriate responses to the concerns and issues raised in the comments,” Judge Munyon wrote.

The Supreme Court gave the panel until November 19.

The Workgroup on the Continuity of Court Operations and Proceedings During and After COVID-19 filed the petition July 1 as part of its broader mission to guide the court’s response to the health emergency and its aftermath.

The petition centers on a proposed rewrite to Florida Rule of General Practice and Judicial Administration 2.530 (Communications Technology) and encompasses six other rule sets — Civil Procedure, Criminal Procedure, Probate Rules, Traffic Court, Small Claims, and Appellate Practice.

The Florida Bar, Bar sections, and procedural rules committees all expressed general support for incorporating more remote hearings and other proceedings into permanent court operations.

The Miami-Dade Bar commented that the proposed revisions, which allow for parties to object to remote proceedings, strike an “appropriate balance” between promoting efficiency and protecting due-process rights.

“And while the COVID-19 pandemic was not the instrument of change that anyone wanted, it has served to demonstrate that Florida’s courts, legal professionals, and the public at large are willing and able to adapt to the technological changes that have already reshaped much of modern society.”

However, The Florida Bar Foundation and other groups warned that the proposed changes could be detrimental to seniors, the poor, and rural residents who lack technical expertise or internet access.

The proposed changes are “likely to result in increased defaults or dismissals entered against persons with meritorious claims or defenses, but who lack the means or aptitude to comply with the proposed technology requirements,” the Foundation wrote.

The result could be more parties needing help, delayed proceedings, and more judicial and staff time devoted to refiling claims, or motions to set aside defaults, the Foundation warned.

The Self-Represented Litigation Network, a nationwide collaboration aimed at helping pro se parties, cited studies that show 3 million Floridians lack internet access.

In addition to access issues, SRLN said the proposed revisions raise due-process, equal protection, neutrality, and cybersecurity concerns. It called for changes to the proposed amendments, and in some instances, more study.

All comments can be found on the docket page for Case No. SC21-990.


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