Resuming court operations webinar attracts 3,200 worldwide

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Resuming court operations webinar attracts 3,200 worldwide

As states begin to issue partial restart orders, more than 3,200 people from state, federal and international courts recently attended the Pandemic Rapid Recovery Team’s webinar on planning for resuming normal court operations, the first of several to help courts as the coronavirus pandemic curve flattens and courts expand their services. At this point, there are more questions than answers, but it’s clear to court leaders that the pandemic will lead to changes—some known and some unknown.

“The court of yesterday is not going to be the court of the future,” said webinar moderator Corey Steel, Nebraska’s state court administrator and a member of CCJ/COSCA’s Rapid Response Team. “This (resuming normal court operations) comes with caveats. This must be done slowly, and this must be done when conditions permit . . . with the understanding that courts resuming operations is not the same as economies reopening.”

Steel listed nine factors that courts should consider to help them decide when and how to expand services, and webinar attendees received this document, which outlined the factors. They include the health of court employees, scheduling, criteria for in-person hearings, vulnerable populations, social distancing, hygiene supplies, health screenings, face coverings, and cleaning courthouses.

During the webinar, three topics surfaced more than others:

  • Screening the public. Ted Cieslak, a doctor who works in the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Department of Epidemiology, recommended that courts require visitors to wear masks and practice social distancing and that someone, preferably a health care professional, check the temperature of those who enter courthouses. He also said all visitors should be asked three questions: Are you coughing? Are you experiencing shortness of breath? Have you been around someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus?
  • Resuming jury trials. Courthouses were not designed to accommodate social distancing, so assembling juries in a way that safeguards the health of jurors poses a great challenge. Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Loretta Rush and other panelists spoke about looking into whether large venues, such as movie theaters and gymnasiums, can be used for jury trials rather than courthouses. “Jury trials are going to be tough,” Chief Justice Rush said.
  • Collaborating with local health officials. A few webinar panelists urged court officials to work closely with local health officials before they make decisions about expanding services. States are diverse places, they said, and what makes sense in one part of a state may not make sense in others. “The difference between Detroit and the Upper Peninsula is like night and day,” said Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget McCormack. The coronavirus is even affecting neighborhoods within cities differently, and local health officials are in the best position to advise court officials about how, when, and where to expand court services, the panelists said.

Click here to read a longer story about the webinar.


Have information to share about how your court is responding to the pandemic? Submit it to pandemic@ncsc.org.

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The National Center for State Courts is currently accepting nominations for the William H. Rehnquist Award, which recognizes a state court judge who possesses outstanding qualities of judicial excellence including integrity, intellectual courage, knowledge of the law and decisiveness. The deadline for nominations is June 19, 2020. See the nomination requirements here.