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National Judicial College: Most courts have cut back to 25% or less of normal activities due to COVID-19 concerns 

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National Judicial CollegeMost of the nation’s courts are running at 25 percent or less of normal operations because of efforts to contain the COVID-19, according to an informal survey of hundreds of judges nationally. 

In the nonscientific emailed poll conducted earlier this month by the National Judicial Collegenearly 6 in 10 judges said their courts were down to 25 percent or less of normal operations. More than 850 judges from around the country participated.  

Nearly 80 percent of the judges said they were operating at 50 percent or less of normal. Fewer than 1 in 4 said their court was operating at 50 percent or better 

Several judges reported that they had postponed all non-essential matters due to public safety concerns.  

“We allow only initial misdemeanor hearings, bond hearings, and in-custody hearings. All other matters are continued 45 days or more,” wrote Judge Sonya A. Morris of East Chicago (Indiana) City Court. “The court was also attempting to reduce the county jail population by offering community service and alcohol and drug counseling in lieu of bond.” 

Other judges said they had begun holding court activities remotely via electronic communications or setting courtroom participant limits for emergency hearings. 

“We, like the rest of the nation, are changing our thinking about who gets detained pretrial,” wrote Wayne County (Michigan) Circuit Court Judge Lawrence Talon. 

Sunshine State

In Florida, Chief Justice Charles Canady issued an emergency order suspending jury trials in Florida and extending other state legal deadlines through the end of May. The action emphasizes the need for courts to continue applying social distancing and to use remote technology to help keep people safe while also honoring legal requirements.

Among other things, the order:

  • Suspends all jury selection proceedings and grand juries.
  • Lists other essential and critical proceedings that state courts must continue to perform with appropriate health safeguards, while limiting hearings in other cases.
  • Suspends speedy trial rules for criminal matters and noncriminal traffic infractions.
  • Suspends a rule requiring clerks of court to immediately issue paperwork to sheriffs when a final judgment is made in eviction cases.
  • Extends emergency changes to notarization and oath requirements.
  • Extends health-related limits on court-ordered family visitation involving children in the custody of the Florida Department of Children & Families, including allowing visitation by remote electronic means in some instances.

Filings for Florida courts dropped by more than half in the first two weeks of April compared to the same period in March, and filings fees were off even more dramatically as the effects of the COVID-19 crisis spread across the state. The falloff of filings and related fee revenues are among the pandemic effects being dealt with by clerks of court and the court system, both of which rely on those revenues to help fund their operations (Court filings and fees drop dramatically in April).

The National Judicial College is nation’s oldest, largest and most widely attended school for judges. Each month the NJC emails a one-question poll to its more than 12,000 judges around the country who have attended its courses for new and experienced judges. The poll often asks their opinion on an issue of the day. 

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