As shown in a recent report of Florida’s Trial Court Budget Commission, the number of circuit civil jury trials expected to be delayed by the pandemic is 770 through the end of 2021. Additionally, one of the consequences of the moratorium on evictions has been landlords holding back on filing eviction cases until the moratorium is lifted. As the moratorium is expected to end on June 30, the courts are expecting a surge in eviction filings to follow. With such a largely anticipated backlog, the Florida Supreme Court has been actively considering ways to refine and strengthen the temporary remedial measures adopted in March 2020. To that end, on the anniversary of the governor’s declaration of a public health emergency in the state of Florida, Chief Justice Charles T. Canady issued the latest in a stream of administrative orders aimed at mitigating the impact of the pandemic while keeping Florida’s courts operating to the fullest extent safely possible. The new order provides guidance and sets new requirements related to efforts to maintain and maximize judicial workflow—now largely accomplished by remote means—during the phased re-opening of Florida’s courts to in-person proceedings. For those of us embroiled in civil litigation (whether as counsel or parties), there are several important takeaways from the new order.
First, civil jury selection and trial proceedings remain suspended until, on a circuit-by-circuit basis, the judicial circuit has transitioned to Phase II, but the order permits the conduct of civil jury trials where all parties have consented to a remote trial (however, the case must be “conducive to a remote proceeding” and conducted pursuant to the requirements set forth in Requirements and Evaluation Criteria – Remote Civil and Criminal Jury Trials). Additionally, the order permits chief judges to authorize remote jury selection and requires the creation of a process for: excusal of jurors due to COVID-19-related issues (such as jurors at a higher risk of severe illness due to COVID-19 infection or whose regular care provider for a child or relative is closed due to the pandemic), and postponement of jury service due to economic hardship caused by the pandemic.