In the Circuit Court of the Twelfth Judicial Circuit
of the State of Florida in and for
DeSoto, Manatee, and Sarasota Counties
Administrative Order No. 2021–15b.2
(modifies and amends 2021–15a.2)
Face Mask Requirement
for All Persons in Courthouses
Extended And Additional COVID-19
Procedural Safeguards and Changes
Due to the ongoing surge of COVID-19 cases within the three counties of this judicial circuit, it is necessary to modify and amend Administrative Order 2021-15a.2, which expires on August 31, 2021.
The health, safety, and well-being of courthouse visitors, jurors, court employees, and judicial officers are a high priority, and we must continue to take steps to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on the courts, its participants, and the general public, while fulfilling the court system’s responsibilities for the administration of justice.
Due to recent increased cases of COVID-19, in part due to the Delta variant, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has provided updated face mask guidance for fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people. The CDC currently recommends that in order to reduce their risk of becoming infected with the Delta variant and potentially spreading it to others, all people should wear a mask in public indoor settings if they are in an area of substantial or high transmission.
The Florida Supreme Court has authorized the chief judge of each circuit in Florida, if warranted by local health conditions, to require the wearing of masks by all persons in a courthouse or in any portion thereof.
Between August 13-19, 2021, Florida again led the nation in new cases of COVID-19. According to the most recent Florida Department of Health COVID-19 Weekly Situation Report, 150,118 new cases were reported in Florida between August 13-19, 2021, averaging just over 21,445 new cases per day. as compared to averaging less than 1,500 new cases per day for the week beginning June 11, 2021, when there were 10,459 reported new cases.
Unfortunately, Desoto, Manatee and Sarasota counties continue to show alarming upward trends in positive COVID-19 cases. The most recent 14-day trend shows a 67% increase in cases in Manatee County, a 49% increase in cases in Sarasota County, and an 87% increase in cases in DeSoto County. According to the Florida Department of Health, the new case positivity rates between August 13-19, 2021 in the counties of the Twelfth Circuit are as follows: DeSoto County: 24.2%; Manatee County: 19.4%; and Sarasota County: 18.6%.
Due to recent increased cases of COVID-19, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has determined that the level of community transmission of COVID-19 is high in all three counties in the Twelfth Judicial Circuit.
The Florida Supreme Court has authorized the chief judge of each circuit in Florida, if warranted by local health conditions, to have the discretion to determine how best to utilize available trial court resources and facility space to conduct in-person proceedings. When COVID-19 restrictions were reduced in June following promising health data showing significantly lower infection rates, a large number of people returned to the courthouses. However, due to the marked escalation in COVID-19 cases in all three counties within the circuit, it is necessary to continue requiring that face masks be worn, and to now require the increased use of remote technology in order to limit the amount of people in the courthouse, require physical distancing in courtrooms and hearing rooms when in-person hearings are allowed, and limit the transport of inmates from the jail to the courthouse.
In accordance with Article V, section 7, Florida Constitution, Rule of General Practice and Judicial Administration 2.215, section 43.26, Florida Statutes and In re: COVID-19 Health and Safety Protocols and Emergency Operational Measures for Florida Appellate and Trial Courts, Fla. Admin. Order No. AOSC21-17, Amendment 1 (July 29, 2021), in the interest of the health, safety, and well-being of all people entering the courthouse, and in order to reduce the possibility of transmission of COVID-19 in the courthouse, it is hereby ordered and adjudged as follows:
Face Masks Required
- Face masks must be worn by everyone upon entering the courthouse. If a person entering the courthouse does not have his or her own face mask, a disposable face mask will be provided. Face masks shall be worn while in any area of the courthouse accessible to the public, including stairwells and elevators, and in all courtrooms.
- Face masks are not required to be worn in non-public, secure areas of the courthouse or in private offices, however, persons who are are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated are highly encouraged to wear a facemask in all non-public areas of the courthouse.
- Face masks should completely cover the nose and mouth and fit snugly around the nose, chin, and sides of the face, as recommended by the CDC. For their own comfort, everyone is encouraged to bring and wear their own face masks, but if a person does not have his or her own face mask, a disposable face mask will be provided to them.
- Signs are posted at all entrances, including non-public entrances, indicating that all persons must wear a face mask while in public areas of the courthouse. Any person who refuses to wear a face mask as required by this order will be denied entry to the courthouse.
- Employees of other agencies whose office is in a private or secure area of the courthouse should follow face mask guidelines established by their agency or department head while they are working in their private or secure area; however, these employees must wear a face mask whenever they are in a public area of the courthouse, including all public elevators and public stairwells.
Physical Distancing Required
- Physical distancing will be enforced in all courtrooms and hearing rooms where in-person proceedings occur. Signage on seats indicates which seats may be used.
- All persons in the courthouse are responsible for physically distancing themselves in accordance with CDC guidance in all public areas of the courthouse.
Hygiene and Wellness
- Anyone who is sick should not enter the Courthouse. Symptoms including a cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, congestion, runny nose, fever or chills, body aches, vomiting or diarrhea, or a new loss of taste or smell, may be indicative of COVID-19.
- Everyone in the courthouse must practice good hygiene protocols, including hand washing, hand sanitizing, and covering coughs and sneezes.
- Hand sanitizer is widely available throughout the courthouse, including inside courtrooms.
- Disinfecting cleaning products and paper towels are available in each courtroom.
In-Person Proceedings and Use of Remote Technology
- Effective immediately, all court hearings, except those listed in paragraphs 13, 14, 15 and 16 below, shall be conducted remotely, unless the Chief Judge determines that good cause exists to require that a hearing be held in person. Mere convenience or mere shortening of the duration of the hearing shall not constitute good cause.
- The following hearings may be held in person without a separate determination of good cause, provided physical distancing and face mask requirements are followed:
- First appearance hearings, however inmates shall appear via video;
- Juvenile detention hearings and juvenile delinquency trials;
- Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) advisory hearings;
- Early Childhood Court reviews;
- Criminal arraignments (felony, misdemeanor, delinquency);
- Hearings on petitions for Judicial Waiver of Notice;
- Hearings on ex parte petitions for temporary injunctions relating to safety of an individual or exploitation of a vulnerable adult;
- Hearings on ex parte petitions for risk protection orders;
- Hearings on petitions for the appointment of an emergency temporary guardian;
- Hearings on Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Orders;
- Hearings on petitions for extraordinary writs as necessary to protect constitutional rights; and
- Other emergency or time sensitive matters as determined by the presiding judge and approved by the Chief Judge.
- All court events already scheduled to be heard during the weeks of August 30 – September 10, 2021, that were noticed to be held in-person (with no Zoom information having been provided to parties), if impractical to reschedule to Zoom, may be held as scheduled in person, provided physical distancing and face mask guidelines are followed.
- All arraignments, including violation of probation early case resolution arraignments, shall continue to be in-person court events with physical distancing and face mask requirements followed.
- Hearings in which pleas are entered or sentences imposed requiring the immediate taking of fingerprints for out-of-custody defendants (misdemeanor, felony and juvenile delinquency) or the remand of a person into custody, may be held in person at the courthouse and scheduled directly with the presiding judge.
- All other criminal hearings, (including pretrial conferences, case managements, violation of probation hearings, trial scheduling and docket soundings) shall be conducted using remote technology.
- Criminal division judges may continue to hold all necessary in-custody criminal proceedings as long as the hearings are conducted using remote technology and there are no in-person participants.
- Inmates shall not be transported to a courthouse, except for good cause and only if approved by the Chief Judge, or by the Administrative Judge in Manatee County (Judge Diana Moreland); by the Administrative Judge in Sarasota County (Judge Kimberly Bonner); or by the Administrative Judge in DeSoto County (Judge Don Hall).
- Grand jury proceedings may be convened provided physical distancing and face mask requirements are followed.
- Deposition rooms in the courthouses shall remain open and may be used provided physical distancing and face mask requirements are followed.
- This Amended Administrative Order is effective Monday, August 30, 2021, and will remain in effect until modified, extended or rescinded by further order of this court based on updated health data.
Done and ordered in Chambers, Sarasota County, Florida, this 27th day of August, 2021.
Charles E. Roberts