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COVID-19 roundup: Courts restrict visitors, alter schedules

By Donna Higgins

(March 13, 2020) - In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, courts around the country have imposed restrictions and altered their schedules.

The U.S. Supreme Court closed its doors the public at 4:30 p.m. March 12 “until further notice,” a statement posted on the court’s website said.

”The building will remain open for official business, and case filing deadlines are not extended,” the statement read.

The high court’s next round of oral arguments is scheduled to begin March 23.

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has formed a task force to “share information and guidance related to the coronavirus outbreak as it relates to the Judiciary,” according to a statement posted on its website March 12.

The task force includes representatives of the General Services Administration, the U.S. Marshals Service and other agencies, the statement said.

”The AO is also providing courts, probation and pretrial offices, and defender services organizations with human resources, budget, and other guidance and continual updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” the statement said.

The following information is drawn from the courts’ and legislatures’ respective websites.

Federal appeals court

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on March 9 said is proceeding with scheduled arguments but is asking lawyers or pro se parties in those cases to contact the clerk’s office if they have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or visited China, Iran, Italy, Japan or South Korea within the last 14 days.

Further, the attorneys and litigants should contact the office if they have been asked to self-quarantine by a health official, have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, or have a health condition such as chronic lung disease, cancer, diabetes, heart disease or weakened immune system.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals starting March 11 barred courtroom entry to anyone diagnosed with COVID-19 or who has had contact with anyone who has tested positive; who has been asked to self-quarantine by a health official; who has cold or flu symptoms; who has traveled to Iran, Italy, South Korea or China within the last 14 days; or who has had close contact with anyone who has done so.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a March 12 statement said it has “limited staff in the courthouse due to the current public health crisis” and asked that anyone who has questions contact the court by email at questions@ca9.uscourts.gov rather than calling.

Oral arguments scheduled in Seattle for March 30 to April 3 have been moved to Pasadena, California.

The 11th Circuit Judicial Conference has been canceled, according to a statement from Chief Judge Ed Carnes of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The conference was to be held May 6-9 in Atlanta.

”Although circuit judicial conferences provide a good opportunity for judges and lawyers to learn from each other and from speakers, I concluded that the cancellation was necessary and prudent in the interest of the health of all of those who would have attended the conference,” Judge Carnes said.

Effective March 13, the District of Columbia Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals is restricting access to the court. Only judges, court staff, members of the media and visitors who have official court business will be allowed to enter the building.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit on March 12 removed some cases from its oral argument calendar in response to the crisis.

Of the remaining cases, oral argument will be held telephonically if attorneys for either side are from outside the Washington, D.C., area. If attorneys for both sides are local, in-person arguments will go forward, for now.

Federal district courts

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington has continued all in-court proceedings in civil and criminal cases until further notice effective.

The March 9 order does not affect civil or criminal motions that can be resolved without oral arguments.

For criminal matters, the duration of the continuance will be excluded under the Speedy Trial Act, 18 U.S.C.A. § 3161(h)(7)(A).

The court will vacate or amend the order by March 31.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on March 10 postponed all naturalization ceremonies for the remainder of March and canceled tours and other non-case-related events.

In addition, effective March 16 through April 30, the court has continued all misdemeanor, traffic and petty offense cases.

Under a March 9 order, all detainees scheduled to appear in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York must have their temperatures taken before appearing in court, and anyone with a temperature above 100.4 degrees cannot enter the courtroom.

A separate administrative order bars entry to the courthouse for people diagnosed with COVID-19, those who have had close contact with anyone who tested positive for the virus, anyone who has been asked to self-quarantine by a health official, and anyone who traveled to China, Iran, Italy, Japan or South Korea in the last 14 days.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan and the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut have implemented similar restrictions.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois has continued all civil jury trials scheduled to begin before April 3.

With respect to criminal trials, a March 12 order said judges “may take such actions consistent with this order as may be lawful and appropriate to ensure the fairness of the proceedings and preserve the rights of the parties.”

State legislatures

The Illinois General Assembly canceled its legislative sessions until March 24 over concerns about the spread of COVID-19

The Delaware General Assembly has canceled its session scheduled for March 17-19 but is set to resume March 24.

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