How Court Filings and Hearings Have Been Affected
By the Coronavirus in Florida
Court filings and hearings have been affected by the coronavirus in Florida and social distancing is not making anything any easier. Social distancing is the norm these days, and there is little indication that that is going to change any time soon. Some states have been slower than others in implementing social distancing concepts to their court procedures but most have eliminated all but essential in-person appearances and filings in favor of telephonic and video appearances and electronic filings. However, Florida is no different. This article will set forth what attorneys and their clients can expect in the State of Florida during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What is Social Distancing?
Social distancing is the actions one takes to limit face-to-face contact and slow the spread of the highly-contagious coronavirus. One recommended social distancing action is to keep at least 6 feet away from others. As of this writing (April 17, 2020), the federal government has mandated that social distancing be practiced at least until April 30. Although, this deadline may be longer.
Is Florida Practiced Social Distancing?
Yes. On March 1, 2020, the State of Florida Surgeon General and State Health Officer declared a Public Health Emergency. On March 9, 2020, Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for the entire State of Florida, directing interstate travelers to Florida to self-quarantine for 14 days or the duration of their trip, whichever was shorter. He also directed Floridians to limit their travel to essential travel and avoid groupings of 10 or more people, among other things.
How is the COVID-19 Pandemic Affecting Court Proceedings in
the State of Florida?
On April 6, 2020, Chief Justice Charles T. Canady issued an administrative order, AOSC20-23 to clarify and extend previously enacted temporary social distancing measures created by six previous orders, effective through May 29, 2020. These measures include:
● Suspending prohibitions on conducting court proceedings electronically or remotely;
● Suspending prohibitions on giving sworn testimony electronically or remotely;
● Providing for the administration of oaths via the audio-visual system;
● Suspending all grand jury and jury selection proceedings;
● Suspending criminal and civil jury trials;
● Restricting trial court proceedings to a limited number of “essential” proceedings;
● Suspending certain time periods in criminal procedure;
● Suspending speedy trial time periods in non-criminal traffic infraction proceedings;
● Suspending the issuance of writs of possession;
● Suspending the requirement that certain family law forms be notarized or also signed in the presence of a deputy clerk.
What are “Essential” Court Proceedings?
Chief Justice Canady deemed the following types of court proceedings “essential,” and these will continue to be held throughout the duration of the public health emergency, despite other restrictions:
● First appearance in a criminal trial;
● Criminal arraignments;
● Motion hearings to set or modify bail for individuals in custody;
● Juvenile dependency shelter hearings;
● Hearings on petitions for injunctions related to the safety of an individual;
● Hearings on petitions for risk protection orders;
● Hearings to appoint emergency temporary guardians;
● Hearings to determine whether an individual should be involuntarily committed under the Baker Act or the Marchman Act;
● Hearings on petitions for extraordinary writs, to protect constitutional rights.
Additionally, any proceeding related to violations of the rules and laws relative to restricting the spread of COVID-19 is also deemed “essential” and will be held. These proceedings include but are not limited to those related to:
● quarantine or isolation violations,
● violations of the order to limit travel,
● violations of the order to close public or private buildings, and
● enforcement of curfew.
The Chief Justice also charged the circuit and county chief judges to cancel any non-critical and non-essential court proceedings or events that cannot be held remotely or electronically for whatever reason. The court system’s COVID-19 emergency webpage has more information.
Additional Proceedings Could Be Essential
In sum, any court proceeding not deemed essential is suspended or postponed. However, because the Chief Justice did give each circuit and county chief judge discretion to deem other critical proceedings “essential” and hold them during this crisis. You or your attorney should check with the court in which your matter is being heard. Find out about the status of the case.
About the Author
Veronica Baxter is a legal assistant and blogger living and working in the great city of Philadelphia. She frequently works with Todd Mosser, Esq., a busy Philadelphia appeals attorney.