While other jurisdictions are resuming trials, Florida’s chief justice pushed back a hard deadline on cases with juries until late July and slid reports assessing a pilot program for remote civil jury trials until October.
Florida courts will remain closed to all but essential functions through July 20, two weeks longer than previously ordered by Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady. Statewide grand jury proceedings won’t resume until July 27.
The first statewide court restrictions took effect March 13, which means the mass shutdown with limited exceptions will last more than four months. The Florida Supreme Court and District Courts of Appeal have adopted virtual arguments, and constitutionally mandated hearings are being held.
Miami-Dade Circuit Court is part of a five-circuit group testing virtual civil jury trials, and Broward Circuit Chief Judge Jack Tuter has been pushing ahead on his own with remote experiments.
The next test invites prospective jurors to a Zoom meeting room July 10 for voir dire in a fictional case with questioning to be coordinated by members of the American Board of Trial Advocates.
Tuter is uncertain if the main downtown Fort Lauderdale courthouse will be open by late July and said the circuit is unlikely to send subpoenas for prospective jurors to come to court by August or possibly September.
“The deciding factor will be what the health situation looks like,” Tuter said Tuesday. “We’re going to proceed with extreme caution.”
Jury proceedings including grand jury work, jury selection and criminal and civil jury trials are governed by the July 20 deadline.
Under an administrative order issued Monday, Canady delayed a July 31 deadline for reports on testing for remote civil jury trials until Oct. 2.
Remote jury trials are authorized, but chief circuit judges would have to approve any move to in-person proceedings in counties with Phase 2 reopening standards.
That covers all but South Florida, which has over half of all Florida cases as counts climb in other counties that had been seeing only slow growth.
Canady notes the Phase 2 benchmark is tied to a two-week improvement on COVID-19 data at the county level.
But Florida is seeing an unusual spurt, adding 1,000 daily cases for a week. State data shows new weekly cases and the percentage of positive tests have been climbing since May 18.
“I applaud the efforts to keep the work of courts moving consistent with public safety,” Canady said in a memo to judges. But he noted some circuits in a working group he assigned to examine court reopenings “have raised questions about how to interpret the Phase 2 benchmark related to improving COVID-19 health conditions.”
Canady scheduled a meeting of chief judges Thursday and said, “COVID-19, and the transition to Phase 2, will be a central part of our discussion.”
South Florida federal trials have been delayed until at least Aug. 31.
In Texas, a test jury trial was held last week in Dallas, and a federal criminal trial is set for Monday in the Northern District of Texas. Experiments are under way in state courts, but live jury trials aren’t expected to resume until August.
Read the order:
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