A Message from Chief Judge Kimberly C. Bonner

May 5, 2020

As many of you are aware, the Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court issued an Administrative Order that extends the time limits on face-to-face court proceedings until June 1, 2020, and suspends jury trials until July 1, 2020. This has raised many questions about what court proceedings will look like after June 1. As part of the process of fully reopening face-to-face court proceedings, a statewide work group, of which I am a member, is gathering data and drafting recommendations and guidelines for the Chief Justice’s consideration. In the meantime, we will continue to develop protocols to ensure public health through practices such as social distancing as we begin the process of bringing back larger volume dockets.

How this will look in practice is something for which that I have no guarantees; however, at a minimum, I expect many civil, family, and probate/guardianship matters, will continue to use remote technology for the near future. Where available and feasible, and to never compromise due process rights, I anticipate remote technology will be with us for several months in almost every division. Due process cases (including criminal, dependency, domestic violence, and juvenile) will get priority as we phase in face-to-face proceedings. Those of us who work in other divisions will likely have to wait our turn to see a full reinstatement of in-person proceedings, including trials. For civil practitioners, although I wish I had a barometer of when civil jury trials will recommence, it is impossible to give an accurate estimate at this time.

We expect the Chief Justice to begin issuing Administrative Orders with guidelines and limitations around the middle of this month. These Administrative Orders will take the courts beyond June 1 and answer many questions. Please know we are planning for the resumption of in-person court proceedings in a way that guarantees access to courts while being ever mindful of public safety. To the extent we can use technology to accomplish this, we will continue to do so. Finally, we do not intend to overlook self-represented litigants, or others who have limited access to technology; therefore, any long-term plan to get cases adjudicated will necessitate continued collaboration on ways to provide easier access to court proceedings.

Thank you all for your patience and cooperation. I know none of us anticipated 2020 would be so challenging, but by working together, we will ensure that our courts remain open for business and that access to justice is not unduly delayed.

The 12th Circuit is committed to providing timely access to the courts during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although our current restrictions under the Florida Supreme Court’s Administrative Order prohibit us from conducting face-to-face hearings in many cases, including civil, family, and probate, we have implemented processes that allow us to handle most matters remotely. Zoom is the video platform we are currently utilizing. In addition, because many litigants and attorneys do not have that technology available, we are also conducting hearings via conference call or by other available means. If you let us know your needs, we will find a way for you to appear and be heard.

We understand that coming to court in a virtual fashion is not the norm, and is not ideal; however, we strongly believe that every case deserves to be considered without undue delay. There will be some cases that must be postponed until we are completely open for regular operations, but rest assured, we have been getting our re-open plans ready to implement so that those postponed cases can be scheduled as soon as possible.

With 32 judges in the circuit, there will inevitably be variations between the divisions on the daily logistics of scheduling and case management. This is always the case, even in the absence of these extraordinary circumstances. Although we strive for a basic level of consistency, each judge ultimately has a great deal of discretion in how to manage their courtroom. We are in constant communication with each other to make sure we are being as responsive and uniform as possible.

For those self represented litigants and defendants who have not yet been appointed or retained counsel, we want to stress that you should 1) keep your address and contact information current by clicking the link and emailing it to our self-help center staff who will notify the clerk’s office; 2) sign up for e-Notify (criminal cases only); and 3) contact the clerk of court if you are unsure about your upcoming court date.

  • DeSoto County Clerk of Court staff can assist by email, phone at (863) 993-4876, or fax at (863) 993-4669
  • Manatee County Clerk of Court staff can assist online, by phone at (941) 749-1800, or mail at Post Office Box 25400, Bradenton, FL 34206.
  • Sarasota County Clerk of Court staff can assist online, by phone at (941) 861-7400, or mail at Post Office Box 3079, Sarasota, FL 34230-3079

There will be hundreds, if not thousands, of notices for court dates sent over the next several weeks. It is imperative that we have good contact information for you. In addition, our county judges are working on a process that would allow out of custody defendants to resolve their cases using Zoom or other technology.

As part of our COVID-19 response, you can read our updated procedures, which includes information on foreclosures, evictions, bond forfeitures, and other issues such as parenting and custody orders as well as procedures for violation of quarantine orders. These procedures will be updated as circumstances warrant.

Finally, thank you for your patience and understanding. We are all frustrated with the limitations of conducting court in a virtual setting, but we are all in this together. Our judges, magistrates, assistants, court administration staff, interpreters, case managers, IT professionals, and court reporters are still reporting for duty and doing their jobs, and we look forward to seeing you in person soon.