Lowndes

Ninth Judicial Circuit (State) Court Transitions to More In-Person Proceedings


  • June 1, 2020
  • /   Richard Dellinger
  • /   Articles,Coronavirus COVID-19 Task Force,Alternative Dispute Resolution,Litigation & Trial Practice
coronavirus dispute resolution


Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court (State Court) has remained open, relying primarily on teleconference or videoconference for hearings. Starting today, the Ninth Judicial Circuit is beginning to transition to more in-person hearings. To do so, the court adopted safety protocols and standards for those using the courthouse. The goal of these standards is to minimize court traffic and attempt to exclude those who might be carrying the virus.

To minimize court traffic, the dockets have been staggered, and most hearings are being moved to the lower floors of the courthouse. The lower floors are accessible by stairs and escalators. In the elevators, there will be limits on the number of users. At a town hall last week, the Chief Judge indicated that the elevators would accommodate four people per trip, with one person in each corner. 

The court has adopted more comprehensive sanitation and cleaning protocols. And, the scheduling of hearings is being staggered to limit pedestrian flow and ensure social distancing. In the past, attorneys and clients were encouraged to arrive early for their hearings. Now, arriving early will be discouraged—even prohibited—as attorneys and their clients will not be granted access to the courthouse before 30 minutes of their scheduled court proceeding. 

Before entering the courthouse, all judges, court staff, attorneys and members of the public must undergo a health screening and temperature check. No one with a temperature of 100.4 or higher will be allowed into the courthouse. The court will exclude anyone who discloses that they have a cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, chills, muscle pain, sore throat or a new loss of taste or smell.

Those who are currently awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test, as well as those under instructions to self-isolate or quarantine due to COVID-19, will be excluded. Anyone who has had close contact with someone with a COVID-19 diagnosis or who is awaiting test results for COVID-19 and anyone who has traveled to an “area with a notably high concentration of COVID-19 cases” will also be excluded. This could include domestic locations where there is a notably high concentration of COVID-19 cases. 

Finally, the use of face masks will be required in all areas of the courthouse. There are some exceptions for short periods of time during court proceedings. But, face masks will be required of everyone in the courthouse. This includes lawyers, clients, witnesses, judges, clerks and bailiffs.

The Florida Supreme Court suspended jury trials through July 2, 2020, by Administrative Orders issued on on March 24, April 6, and May 4, 2020. The transition to in-person hearings begins to lay the groundwork for a return to trials if the Administrative Order is not extended. 

The Florida Supreme Court suspended jury trials through July 2, 2020, by Administrative Orders issued on on March 24, April 6, and May 4, 2020. The transition to in-person hearings begins to lay the groundwork for a return to trials if the Administrative Order is not extended. 

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