Thank you very much for your patience and understanding as we move forward during and after this public health emergency.
The following information, protocols, and procedures are intended to comply with the Administrative Orders and Best Practices from the Florida Supreme Court and the 12th Circuit and may change as new Administrative Orders or Best Practices are received by the Court. Please refer to the Florida Supreme Court’s “Emergency” page and the 12th Circuit’s homepage for the latest updates.
Until at least May 31, 2020, all proceedings and court events requiring in-person appearances are postponed or cancelled in Manatee County’s Family Division 3 (Judge Whyte), except for essential proceedings, proceedings critical to the state of emergency or the public health emergency, and other emergency or time sensitive matters as determined by the presiding judge.
Emergency and Time Sensitive Matters
Emergency or time sensitive matters where an in-person court proceeding is required should be brought to the court’s attention immediately, via the Division 3, so the protocols put in place by the applicable Administrative Orders can be followed.
Emergency and Expedited matters should continue to be e-filed with the Clerk and sent to the Court, via the Division 3 e-mail, for review and consideration. Emergency and expedited hearings may occur in-person or by telephone, as directed by the Court. All evidence must be provided to the opposing party and the Court at least 24 hours prior to the telephonic hearing as set forth herein.
Non-essential proceedings that require in-person court appearances will need to be rescheduled by the scheduling party for a time when normal operations have resumed. Non-essential proceedings that require in-person court appearances and that were scheduled by the court will be rescheduled by the court for a time when normal operations have resumed.
If the Movant intends to cancel a hearing that is set to be heard, the Movant should send an e-mail to the Division 3 e-mail, with other parties copied, confirming that the hearing is cancelled. The Movant should prepare and e-file a Notice of Cancellation with the Clerk of Court and send copies to the parties.
For evidentiary hearings, the Movant should send an e-mail to the Division 3 e-mail, with other parties copied, to ask if the court will hear the matter via Zoom. It would be helpful to the Court if the Motion is attached to the e-mail. If another party objects to hearing the Motion by Zoom, written objections should be provided to the Court with other parties copied. If the Court agrees to hear the matter via Zoom, the parties should follow the Zoom Protocols below. There are additional pre-hearing and post-hearing requirements for evidentiary hearings. Please see Zoom Protocols, below.
For non-evidentiary hearings, Court preapproval is not required to set the matter for a Zoom hearing. The parties should follow the appropriate Zoom protocol below in coordinating, setting, and noticing a non-evidentiary Zoom hearing.
Uncontested/Stipulated Final Hearings
Parties are encouraged to use the Special Interrogatory process that can be found on the Court’s website. This will minimize in-person interactions and allow parties to conclude their cases in a timely manner. The Court is reviewing Special Interrogatory packets on a daily basis and entering Final Judgements.
If a hearing is required, the Uncontested/Stipulated Final Hearing will be conducted by Zoom. Parties should use the Court’s Special Interrogatories checklist to prepare a Final Hearing packet. The Final Hearing packet, including a proposed Final Judgment and a legible copy of proof of Florida residency, should be provided to the Court via e-mail at least 24 hours prior to the hearing to allow the Court to review the docket and to confirm the necessary documents are complete and correct.
Identification of Parties, Witnesses, and Others and the Administration of Oaths
- If both parties are represented by counsel and both parties stipulate to the identity of the other party and each witness, a notary is not required. The Court will administer the oath.
- If one or both parties are unrepresented, both sides must waive the notary requirement in Rule of Judicial Administration 2.530, and both parties will be required to stipulate to the other’s identity and the identity of each witness.
- If the parties cannot or will not stipulate to the identity of any party or witness, the party or witness will need to have available a notary or other authorized official administer an oath as required by Rule 2.530, Florida Rules of Judicial Administration, and AOSC20-23.
Motions to Compel
Pursuant to 12th Judicial Circuit AO 2010-22.2, Section E(1)(d), “Motions to compel discovery shall quote in full each interrogatory, question on deposition, request for admission, or request for production to which the motion is addressed and the objection and grounds given by the opposing party.” Strict adherence to this rule will facilitate the Court’s review of the contested matters without having to refer to multiple documents.
Parties can request an adoption hearing be conducted via Zoom by following the Zoom Protocols set forth below and having a notary or other authorized official administer an oath as required by Rule 2.530, Florida Rules of Judicial Administration, AOSC20-23. The Court is amenable to conducting adoption hearings at a location other than the courthouse where practicable, as a courtesy to the parties. Please contact the Court’s JA, via the Division 3 e-mail, to request such arrangements.
Adoption proceedings that must be recorded should be brought to the Court’s attention via an e-mail to the Division 3 email so the protocols put in place by the applicable Administrative Orders can be followed.
Motions for Contempt and/or Enforcement
Please refer to and use the format of Florida Supreme Court Approved Family Law Form 12.960, Motion for Civil Contempt/Enforcement Form. Motions for Contempt and/or Enforcement should be put in plain and concise terms. The Court will consider these motions for hearing, pursuant to the applicable Administrative Orders and the procedures and protocols set forth herein.
Injunction Hearings (Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Repeat Violence, Sexual Violence, and Stalking)
These mission critical matters will continue to be in-person hearings on the days and times noticed by the Court. The number of people in the courtroom will be limited to ten or fewer, including staff, and social distancing will apply to all attendees.
If a party or attorney wishes to appear by Zoom, a motion should be e-filed with the Clerk, sent to the other parties, and e-mailed to the Court at the Division 3 email. If the request to appear by Zoom is granted, parties and witnesses will need to comply with Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.530, including the requirement that a notary or other authorized official administer an oath as required by Rule 2.530, Florida Rules of Judicial Administration, and AOSC20-23.
Parties may also stipulate to a continuance of the hearing and submit the stipulation to the Court for consideration.
Case Management Conferences (CMC)
Parties can submit written stipulations to continue a CMC to another CMC date. Available CMC dates can be obtained by sending an email to the Division 3 email. If parties decide to go forward with their CMC, it will be on the same day and time as previously noticed and will be conducted by Zoom as set forth herein
Pre-Trial Conferences (PTC)
The Court will hold PTCs via Zoom on the same days and times as previously noticed.
Trials can be continued by stipulation of the parties. The parties will also need to choose another CMC date. Available CMC dates can be obtained by sending an email to the Division 3 email.
If the parties intend to go forward with the trial, the relevant logistics will be discussed at the PTC. If the PTC has already passed, the parties must schedule a 30 minute Status Conference with the Court to discuss the relevant logistics of the trial. Available dates and times for such Status Conference can be obtained by sending an emailing the Division 3 email.
All Other Matters, Motions, and Proceedings
Please contact the Court via the Division 3 email, with a copy to all parties, to begin a dialogue about how to proceed.
Manatee County Family Law Division 3 Zoom Protocols During COVID-19 Public Health Emergency
The following protocols must be followed for Zoom trials, hearings, and conferences:
- There will not be an audio or video recording made of the hearing. Court reporters may be accommodated, and the Court must be made aware of the court reporter’s presence at the start of the hearing.
- Requirements and protocols for remote appearances must be followed, including the need for a notary public or other authorized official to administer an oath as required by Rule 2.530, Florida Rules of Judicial Administration, and AOSC20-23.
- Manatee County Family Law Division 3 has established a Zoom account that must be used by the parties for hearings, and Judge Whyte will be the host of the Zoom. Zoom also allows for telephonic appearance and participation. Once the hearing or trial is scheduled, the Court will distribute the Zoom information by email to the attorneys of record and pro se parties. It is the responsibility of the attorneys and parties to provide the Zoom information to witnesses, court reporters, and other interested parties and to schedule their witnesses as needed.
- If the matter is set for hearing via Zoom, the party who scheduled the hearing must:
- Prepare a “Notice of Hearing via Zoom” or Notice of Trial via Zoom” that includes: the case style, names of the parties, and the case number; the motion/matter to be heard; the date, time, and log-in information for the Zoom hearing/trial (see #3 above); and a certificate of service indicating who the motion was served upon and the method of service;
- Electronically file (e-file) the Notice of Hearing with the Manatee Clerk of Court through the Florida Courts E-Filing Portal;
- Send a copy of the Notice of Hearing to all parties and to the court at the Division 3 e-mail; and
- Provide the Court and all parties with copies of any documents or case law to be used or referred to during the hearing (see #12-15 below).
- Actual notice must be provided to all parties and affected non-parties, unless actual notice is impossible or impracticable, in which case the Court will inquire at the beginning of the hearing as to why actual notice was impossible or impracticable and decide whether or not to go forward with the hearing.
- Parties and attorneys must log in to Zoom at exactly the time that their hearing is noticed to begin. For scheduling reasons, hearings must end on time, and parties and attorneys must disconnect once their hearing is concluded.
- As there may be multiple participants in a Zoom hearing, participants and attendees should “Mute” themselves until recognized by the Court. Attendees who do not mute themselves and are disruptive or in a noisy environment may be muted by the Court during the videoconference.
- Due to the sensitive nature of the topics generally discussed in family law matters, parties, attorneys, witnesses, and other attendees should not participate or listen to the Zoom using speakerphone unless they are in a private or secluded area.
- Anyone attending, participating in, or viewing the videoconference call will be required to announce themselves prior to the hearing beginning or when they join the hearing.
- In order to promote clarity and allow the court to hear and understand the issues being discussed, parties and attorneys should wait for the court to recognize them before speaking. Parties and attorneys shall refrain from talking over one another or interrupting except to make specific, legal objections.
- Attorneys and parties must notify the Court at least 24 hours in advance if language interpretation services will be utilized by any parties or witness during the hearing. Arrangements for interpreter services are the responsibility of the attorneys and parties. See Judge Whyte’s Information and Requirements and the 12th Circuit’s website for information about obtaining interpreter services.
- Exhibits, Evidence, and Witnesses
- If either party intends to introduce physical evidence or exhibits into the record at the hearing, such evidence or exhibits must be pre-marked for identification (see #12 below and Judge Whyte’s Information & Requirements). Attorneys and parties are responsible for redacting and minimizing exempt, confidential, or sensitive information within exhibits pursuant to Florida Law and Rules of Procedure.
- Exhibits should be scanned and emailed as .pdf files. Each exhibit should be sent as a separate .pdf file, and the file named so that it is readily identifiable by case number, party moving the exhibit into evidence, and exhibit number. For example, a .pdf might be titled/named “2020DR1234 Petitioner Exhibit 4” or “2020DR1234 Respondent Composite Exhibit 7.” With respect to physical evidence, parties are directed to exchange pictures of the evidence.
- Immediately after the hearing, exhibits should be filed with the Clerk, via the E-Portal, by the admitting party. This includes both admitted exhibits and if necessary for appellate purposes, exhibits that were offered but not admitted into evidence.
- For exhibits that were offered and admitted into evidence, the admitting party shall file with the Clerk a “Notice of Admitted Exhibits” that clearly indicates and describes which exhibits were received (using the exhibit number, title, or a description of the exhibit), the date of the hearing, and the Motion/Matter for which the exhibit was admitted in support.
- For exhibits that were offered but were not received into evidence, the offering party may file with the Clerk a “Notice of Non-Admitted Exhibits” that clearly indicates and describes which exhibits were offered but not received (using the exhibit number, title, or a description of the exhibit), the date of the hearing, and the Motion/Matter for which the exhibit was offered but not admitted.
- Pursuant to the Florida Supreme Court’s COVID-19 Workgroup’s Best Practices for the Management of Evidence in Remote Hearings in Civil and Family Cases (May 5, 2020):
- At least 48 hours prior to the start of the hearing, parties shall exchange lists of witnesses that are expected to be called at the hearing.
- At least 48 hours prior to the start of the hearing, parties shall exchange exhibits, provide exhibits to the Court via the Division 3 email, and confer remotely for the purpose of stipulating, as much as practicable, to the authenticity and admissibility of the exhibits as well as to the identity of parties and witnesses. Stipulations should be announced on the record at the beginning of the hearing.
- Objections to exhibits may be filed with the Court ahead of the hearing, raised in limine at the beginning of the hearing, or made during the hearing, as appropriate.
General guidelines on time
Based on the Court’s experience with remote Zoom hearings so far and in an effort to help the parties plan for efficient and effective hearings within the reserved time, the Court provides the following information as very broad, general guidelines:
- For 30 minute hearings- plan on 10 minutes for introductory matters, court time, and miscellaneous issues that arise, which leaves each party with approximately 10 minutes to present its side.
- For 1 hour hearings- plan on 10 minutes for introductory matters and 10 minutes for court time and miscellaneous issues that arise, which leaves each party with approximately 20 minutes to present its side.
- For 2 hour hearings- plan on 10 minutes for introductory matters and 10 minutes for court time and miscellaneous issues that arise, which leaves each party with approximately 50 minutes to present its side.
- For 3 hour hearings- plan on 10 minutes for introductory matters and 20 minutes for court time and miscellaneous issues that arise, which leaves each party with approximately 75 minutes to present its side.
Appearing by Telephone using Zoom
While Manatee County Family Law Division 3 is primarily using Zoom videoconferencing for hearings and trials, an attorney, party, or witness can appear via telephone through the Zoom platform, if Zoom videoconferencing is impossible or impracticable. The Zoom notice contains telephone numbers that can be used to access to the hearing or trial as well as the necessary Meeting ID numbers and passwords, if required.
Thank you again for your patience and understanding as we navigate in these uncharted waters.