Some Florida Courts to Revert to Phase 1 Operations

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Some courts in Florida are now retracting their plans due to an increase in coronavirus cases. Just a few weeks ago, the courts had announced plans to safely reopen even while the pandemic was still going on. With the new cases in Florida rising daily, courtrooms in Florida have now decided it may be best to close down again until further notice. Starting on Monday, courts in Osceola and Orange counties will start limiting their operations.

The circuit will now go back to Phase 1, under which “in-person contact is inadvisable, court facilities are effectively closed to the public, and in-person proceedings are rare,” according to an administrative order.

The number of new Florida cases of coronavirus has risen to 8,942 as of Friday, June 26. Hospitalizations and deaths keep rising. We must state, however, that hospitalization stay lengths are decreasing as well as the mortality rate. Chief Judge Donald Myers is ordering a move back to phase one beginning Monday. The move was something Myers suspected might happen when WESH 2’s Greg Fox spoke with him earlier this month.

The 9th Circuit in Orange and Osceola counties moved into phase two of reopening June 8. It came with temperature checks at the front door, access to some clerk services such as marriage licenses and passports, and criminal court hearings being held face-to-face with a judge including witnesses all wearing masks.

Image by Klaus Hausmann from Pixabay 

The new order means only one or two courtrooms will be used for essential hearings beginning next week. Pre-trials and other hearings will be held remotely as a first option and jury trials remain suspended. The clerk services that resumed in early June will remain, with plexiglass barriers, social distancing and appointments.

Orange County Clerk of Courts Tiffany Moore Russell strongly recommends people use online services for many of their needs. “I think this will be the new normal. And we’re trying to put things in place to encourage the public to use technology and conduct business with us and for those things that they have to come here, that limited population should be small,” 

The Ninth Judicial Circuit had been in the Phase 2 restrictions mandated by the Florida Supreme Court since June 5, which allows for limited in-person contact with protective measures, Chief Judge Donald Myers Jr. said.

Essential operations, like first-appearance hearings, criminal arraignments and hearings on risk protection orders, will continue in-person whenever a remote option is not possible, the circuit said in a news release. Non-essential hearings will be done remotely or rescheduled.

Inmates will only be transported to courtrooms and courthouses for in-person hearings, Chief Judge Myers said.