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. 2021–15c.2
(modifies and amends 2021–15b.2)
Second Amended Order on
Face Mask Requirement
for All Persons in Courthouses
Extended And Additional COVID-19
Procedural Safeguards and Changes
Due to the resumption of jury trials effective September 27, 2021, it is necessary to modify and amend Administrative Order 2021-15b.2 to include jury trials to the list of court proceedings which may be held in person and authorize the transport of inmates for jury trials.
While our counties are now experiencing fewer COVID-19 cases in each county within the circuit, and new case positivity rates have declined to levels similar to early July 2021, the health, safety, and well-being of courthouse visitors, jurors, court employees, and judicial officers are still 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.
The Court continues to rely on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and its 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 of COVID-19 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.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has determined that the level of community transmission of COVID-19 is still 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 number of COVID-19 cases in all three counties within the circuit, it is necessary to continue requiring that face masks be worn, and to 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 and jury trials 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 must also be worn while in jury assembly areas and jury deliberation rooms.
- Face masks are not required to be worn in other 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.
- In the interest of justice and only if necessary, clear face masks, or the temporary dropping of face masks for identification purposes in court may be authorized by the presiding judge.
- 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 inperson 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 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
- Jury selection and jury trials (misdemeanor, felony, all civil); and
- Other emergency or time sensitive matters as determined by the presiding judge and approved by the Chief Judge.
- Unrepresented defendants, or defendants in whose cases a written plea of not guilty or denial have not been filed, shall appear in court in person for all arraignments, including violation of probation early case resolution (ECR) arraignments.
- 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, motions, 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.
- Incarcerated defendants, with the exception of those transported for jury trial, shall only be transported to a courthouse if good cause is shown and transport is 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.
- All mediations shall be conducted using remote technology, unless, based on extenuating circumstances and good cause, a request for in-person mediation is 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).
- Deposition rooms in the courthouses remain open and may be used provided physical distancing and face mask requirements are followed.
- Administrative Order 2021-15b.2 is hereby amended by this Second Amended Administrative Order, which is effective Monday, September 27, 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 24th day of September, 2021.
Charles E. Roberts
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