Trying to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at courthouses across the state, Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady on Monday extended a suspension of jury trials and many other in-person court proceedings through May.
“The Florida state courts have taken measures to mitigate the effects of this public health emergency upon the judicial branch and its participants,” Canady wrote in a 14-page order. “To that end, I have issued several administrative orders implementing temporary measures essential to the administration of justice during the COVID-19 pandemic. The overarching intent of those orders has been to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, while keeping the courts operating to the fullest extent consistent with public safety.”
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The order extended the suspension of criminal and civil jury trials, jury selection and grand-jury proceedings through May 29. It said circuit and county courts will “continue to perform essential court proceedings,” such as first-appearance hearings and criminal arraignments, bail hearings for people in jail, juvenile-delinquency detention hearings and hearings to determine whether people should be involuntarily committed under the Baker Act.
“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,” Canady wrote.
The order also directed that other types of proceedings should be rescheduled, postponed or canceled unless they can be conducted by conference call or other technology that would prevent the need for in-person appearances.
Canady issued similar orders last month as the state grappled with COVID-19, the deadly respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The number of cases has continued to increase --- they were at 13,324 in Florida as of Monday morning --- and Gov. Ron DeSantis has issued an order aimed at getting Floridians to stay home this month.
The virus is causing state and federal judges to rely on technology as they handle cases. For example, Leon County Circuit Judge Kevin Carroll is scheduled to hold a telephone hearing Tuesday in a lawsuit that seeks to force DeSantis to close beaches statewide because of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, in federal court, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle late this month is expected to use videoconferencing technology to conduct a trial about the constitutionality of a 2019 Florida law about restoring felons’ voting rights. Voting-rights and civil-rights groups have challenged the law, which was designed to carry out a 2018 constitutional amendment.
Also, judges at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears federal appeals from Florida, have been authorized to hear arguments remotely.
“Where feasible, oral arguments that are not conducted in an open courtroom but instead are done by audio or teleconferencing will be live-streamed to the public at no cost to anyone who wishes to listen,” Ed Carnes, chief judge of the Atlanta-based appeals court, wrote in an order last month.