Florida Supreme Court to limit in-person hearings over coronavirus

Administrative order issued late Tuesday

Florida Supreme Court to limit in-person hearings over coronavirus
(Source: Gray Media Group)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WWSB) - Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady late Tuesday took another step to try to limit the spread of the coronavirus in courthouses, ordering that in-person hearings be restricted to matters that are “essential” or “critical” to the public-health emergency.

Canady, in a five-page administrative order that gave directions to chief judges of the judicial circuits, said the requirements would take effect immediately and last through March 27, though he left open the possibility they could be extended.

“Each chief judge shall review cases and court events and the communications technology resources available to the circuit, each county, and each judge,” the order said. “The chief judge shall issue directives to the judges of the respective circuit and county courts to reschedule, postpone, or cancel all non-essential and non-critical court proceedings and events unless the chief judge determines that such other specific proceedings or events can be effectively conducted remotely using telephonic or other electronic means available in the subject jurisdiction without the necessity of in-person court appearances.”

The order went further than a directive Canady issued last week as the court system deals with the highly contagious virus known as COVID-19. That March 13 order, in part, suspended grand-jury proceedings, jury selections and criminal and civil jury trials through March 27.

Tuesday night’s order gave more-specific direction that said circuit and county courts should continue to perform “essential” court proceedings such as first appearances in criminal cases; necessary criminal arraignments; bond hearings; juvenile-delinquency detention hearings; and hearings about whether people should be involuntarily committed under the Baker Act.

The order also said courts should hold “critical proceedings related to the state of emergency or the public health emergency,” including the possibility of dealing with issues such as violations of quarantines, violations of orders to close buildings and enforcement of curfews.

Canady wrote that the order does not prevent chief judges from determining that additional proceedings are “essential or are critical to the state of emergency or the public health emergency.”

“However, no proceedings or other court events other than essential proceedings and proceedings critical to the state of emergency or the public health emergency shall be conducted through in-person hearings until such time as the public health emergency is resolved, or as provided by subsequent order,” the order said.

The state’s appellate courts also have taken steps such as canceling oral arguments in the coming weeks.

“Because of ongoing concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, the First District Court of Appeal has postponed or canceled all oral argument sessions scheduled through the end of April,” Chief Judge Stephanie Ray wrote in a message posted on the website of the Tallahassee-based 1st District Court of Appeal, which hears cases from across North Florida. “The panel (of judges) assigned to hear each affected case will determine whether to reschedule the oral argument or to decide the case without oral argument.”

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