September 29, 2020
Although Governor DeSantis has lifted the health precautions and restrictions imposed on businesses throughout Florida, the courts, as a separate but co-equal branch of government, follow the requirements put in place by the Florida Supreme Court and its chief justice, Charles Canady. Chief Justice Canady has issued several administrative orders outlining measures for Florida courts to follow, including a four-phase operating procedure. These phases are separate and distinct from the State of Florida phases issued by the governor.
Since the early stages of the pandemic, the courts have continued to operate using remote technology in a continued effort to ensure that justice is not compromised. While some cases and court proceedings are more difficult to conduct than others, we are continuing to conduct court hearings and evidentiary trials by utilizing audio/video technology within our circuit.
On a recent episode of “Law & Sarasota,” hosted by Senior Judge Lee E. Haworth, Chief Judge Bonner discussed in detail the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and explained how the court has adjusted to the unique circumstances.
Currently, all three counties in the Twelfth Circuit have transitioned to Phase 2 operations in accordance with the administrative orders.
The four phases of the pandemic, as it relates to courthouse operations, are as follows:
- Phase 1: In-person contact is inadvisable, court facilities are effectively closed to the public, and in-person proceedings are rare;
- Phase 2: Limited in-person contact is authorized for certain purposes and/or require the use of protective measures;
- Phase 3: In-person contact is more broadly authorized and protective measures are relaxed; and
- Phase 4: COVID-19 no longer presents significant risk to public health and safety.
Phase 2 permits limited in-person court proceedings only for specific types of cases. All proceedings will continue to occur remotely where they can be done effectively. In-person proceedings will only occur as per the provisions in administrative orders AOSC20-23, Amendment 4; AOSC20-32, Amendment 3; and AO2020-12a.02.
The courts will follow social distancing guidelines, and we will conduct health screening as you enter the court buildings. Use of personal protection equipment (PPE) is required and the court and county staff will be cleaning and disinfecting the courtrooms frequently throughout the day.
If you receive a notice for court or a jury summons, please follow the instructions in the notice. If you have questions, please contact the Clerk of Court or the judge’s office, as necessary.
Most of all, please understand that the judicial branch has been innovative, flexible, and proactive in adapting court operations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We remain committed to protecting liberties and resolving disputes with a priority given to protecting the public health.