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. 2021–15e.2
(modifies and amends 2021–15d.2)
Fourth Amended Order
Lifts Face Mask Requirement
in Courthouses but Requires
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 2021-15d.2 to lift the requirement of wearing face masks upon entry into the courthouses and in public areas of the courthouses, although the wearing of face masks is encouraged and highly recommended.
While each county within our circuit is now experiencing fewer COVID-19 cases, and with new case positivity rates declining to levels between 3.4% and 6.5% in our counties, 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 COVID19 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 find that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides valuable guidance with respect to its face mask suggestions 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. Although the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has determined that the level of community transmission of COVID-19 is still substantial in Desoto and Manatee counties while dropping to moderate in Sarasota County, there has been such a significant drop in new case positivity rates in the three counties since mid-August that a relaxation of some restrictions is now appropriate. The new case positivity rates have dropped as follows: in Sarasota County, from 18.6% to 2.5%; in Manatee County, from 19.4% to 4.0%; and in DeSoto County, from 24.2% to 6.5%. The court finds that with these recent developments, a combination of mandatory physical distancing and strong encouragement (rather than a requirement) to wear face masks, would provide adequate safety to people in the courthouses.
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. However, due to the positivity rates of COVID-19 cases in all three counties within the circuit, it is still necessary to 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 Recommended but not Required
- Face masks are not required to be worn upon entering the courthouse or in public areas of the courthouse. However, all persons, including those unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated are highly encouraged to wear a face mask, and should wear a face mask while in the courthouse and in close proximity to other persons.
- If a person entering the courthouse wishes to wear a face mask but does not have his or her own face mask, a disposable face mask will be provided.
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 14 and 15 below, may be held in-person if 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 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 requirements are followed.
- Administrative Order 2021-15d.2 is hereby amended by this Fourth Amended Administrative Order, which is effective Monday, November 1, 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 28th day of October, 2021.
Charles E. Roberts
Return to Administrative Order List