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. 2021–15d.2
(modifies and amends 2021–15c.2)
Third Amended Order on
Face Mask Requirement
for All Persons in Courthouses
and COVID-19 Procedural Safeguards
The positivity rate of COVID-19 cases in all three counties in the circuit has continued to decline, and it is appropriate to modify and amend Administrative Order 2021-15c.2 to lessen the in-person restrictions currently in place by authorizing in-person proceedings and the transport of inmates for jury trials and other proceedings.
While each county within our circuit is now experiencing fewer COVID-19 cases, and with new case positivity rates declining to levels less than 10%, the health, safety, and well-being of courthouse visitors, jurors, court employees, and judicial officers are still a high priority, and we 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 face mask in public indoor settings if they are in an area of substantial or high transmission. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has determined that the level of community transmission of COVID-19 is still high in Desoto and Manatee counties and is substantial in Sarasota County.
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 Florida Supreme Court has also 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 positivity rates of COVID-19 cases in all three counties within the circuit, it is still necessary to continue requiring that face masks be worn, require physical distancing in courtrooms and hearing rooms, and encourage the use of remote technology in order to limit the amount of people in 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 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.
Use of Remote Technology, Limited In-Person Proceedings Authorized, and Inmate Transport Authorized
- Presiding judges are encouraged to use remote technology for court proceedings whenever possible. At the discretion of the presiding judge, all hearings and court events, except as provided in paragraphs 18 and 19 below, may be held in-person if mask and physical distancing guidelines are followed in each courtroom. However, if a party requests that a court proceeding be conducted using remote technology, the presiding judge should give reasonable consideration to accommodating the request.
- If mass dockets are to be conducted in person, the presiding judge must establish a protocol that will allow adherence to the physical distancing requirement, such as using staggered start times.
- 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.
- In-custody defendants who are not in segregation, quarantine or isolation housing at the county jail may be transported to the courthouse for jury trials and hearings at the discretion of the presiding judge. Any incarcerated defendant who tests positive for COVID-19 shall not be transported.
- Grand jury proceedings may be convened provided physical distancing and face mask requirements are followed.
- All Baker Act and Marchman Act hearings usually held off-site at medical facilities shall be conducted using remote technology unless objected to by a party and good cause is shown for holding the hearing in-person. Approval to conduct such proceedings in person must be determined 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).
- 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 as long as physical distancing and face mask requirements are followed.
- Administrative Order 2021-15c.2 is hereby amended by this Third Amended Administrative Order, which is effective Monday, October 18, 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 15th day of October, 2021.
Charles E. Roberts
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