From Miami to Tallahassee, the impact of the coronavirus crisis expanded Wednesday in the justice system.
South Florida bankruptcy courts are closing their doors, the Florida Supreme Court extended restrictions on state court operations, and two Miami-Dade jail staff members who worked in courts have COVID-19.
U.S. Bankruptcy Chief Judge Laurel Isicoff directed courts in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm to shut down indefinitely starting Monday. Scheduled hearings will be conducted by phone, e-filings are permitted, and pro se litigants were advised how to file documents electronically. Mail will be processed, and payments should be sent by mail within two weeks by certified check or money order.
As promised last week, Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady on Tuesday extended an order suspending civil and criminal jury trials, grand jury proceedings and jury selection until April 17 to address the “unprecedented challenge” posed by the virus.
While no decision has been announced on prospects for video hearings, Canady wrote, “Substantial efforts are being made to enable judges and court personnel to conduct court business remotely or on alternate work schedules.”
Judges were encouraged to work remotely, which is the only option for most of them since courthouses have been closed for all but essential hearings.
Canady raised the possibility that some essential and critical proceedings might not meet legal deadlines due to the public health emergency, but he said, “Chief judges are required to take all steps possible to minimize the delay.”
Judges will be allowed to set bail for inmates arrested on warrants from outside their counties rather than have the defendants transported to the originating county for a bail hearing.
“We are living our lives in a way that none of us would have contemplated a few short weeks ago. And none of us can count on things getting easier any time soon. We face many tough choices on the path ahead of us,” Canady said in a video. “The pandemic presents an extraordinary challenge for the legal system. We depend on human interaction to achieve justice under the law. We are working to maintain that interaction while also minimizing the spread of the virus.”
Miami-Dade courts released a statement Wednesday saying two jail officers who worked at the Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building and another Corrections and Rehabilitation Department employee tested positive for the virus.
The infected officers worked in Courtroom 2-7 on March 16 for Judge Marlene Fernandez-Karavetsos and March 17-19 for Judge Laura Cruz, in Courtroom 3-2 on March 17 for Judge Andrea Wolfson and in Courtroom 7-2 on March 18 for Judge Alberto Milian.
Anyone who was in court those days and develops a fever, cough or difficulty breathing was told to seek medical advise and monitor themselves for two weeks.
Read the Bankruptcy Court order:
Read the state order: