Texas Lawyer is collecting news about how courts across the Lone Star State are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We will update this article as we receive new notices of courts’ responses. Please bookmark this report and return often for updates. New updates will be placed at the top of the article.
Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth
Updated March 27, 4:06 p.m.
The Second Court of Appeals has cancelled oral arguments that were scheduled through April 7 and will not reschedule them. Instead, the court will submit the appeals without oral argument, said a notice on the court’s website. All deadlines remain in effect, however, and the court is still open.
Bexar County Civil District Courts
Updated March 27, 4:01 p.m.
Starting April 6, all cases in Bexar County’s civil district courts will be heard remotely, with essential matters getting priority. Doing court this way will require many new procedures from lawyers and pro se litigants, explained in this court operations plan. The plan explains how to give notice of hearings, how to set up telephone and video conferencing, requirements for sending documents and exhibits ahead of time, and more. Among other things, lawyers are responsible for getting witnesses connected with the conference, and should try to avoid delays. The court operation plan also has sections about default judgments, divorces and adoptions, agreed orders and more.
The courts issued a previous order, limiting court business to essential matters, and asking parties and attorneys to agree to reset all non-essential matters. Jury trials are suspended there through April 16, according to a notice by Judge Ron Rangel of the 379th District Court in San Antonio, who is also the local civil administrative judge.
Dallas County District Courts
Updated March 27, 3:49 p.m.
The Dallas County criminal county courts have canceled jury trials through May 11, said a statement. They’re still holding jail pleas and bail hearings daily. Bond cases will resume May 8. The criminal district courts have canceled jury trials through May 8, an order said, and changed procedures for other proceedings. County courts-at-law are only doing in-person hearings for essential matters listed in this order, and eviction appeals are suspended through April 19. Other Dallas County orders are specific to family courts and probate courts.
Harris County Courts
Updated March 27, 3:27 p.m.
The courts in Harris County are limiting in-person gatherings to essential court functions, and no more than 10 people, and using social distancing. There are a few exceptions listed in a March 24 notice. Only one person, or one family, can ride in an elevator. There are also limits on the number of courts allowed to be open on any given day. The criminal district courts issued a general bond order to facilitate the release non-violent defendants from jail. Other COVID-19 orders are on the courts’ website.
Texas Office of Court Administration
Updated March 27, 2:31 p.m.
In a new guidance document, the Texas Office of Court Administration wrote that judges, clerks, court staff and attorneys whose areas are under a stay-home order have a travel authorization to conduct essential legal work. The office has recommended for courts to delay in-person proceedings through May 8, unless they’re essential, and even then to keep group sizes below 10 and seat people six feet apart. There should be no non-essential in-person proceedings, but they can continue remotely. Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht has instruction Texas’ regional presiding judges to ensure all courts in their regions are following the guidelines, and report back any violations. All remote proceedings must remain open to the public, which many courts are doing by streaming them on YouTube channels. The guidance also includes sections about child protection visitations, email service and notice, and setting and reviewing bail.
U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas
Updated March 27, 2:20 p.m.
In the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, civil and criminal bench and jury trials from March 13 to May 1 will be continued and rescheduled for a later date, according to a March 13 order by Chief Judge Barbara Lynn. Only the trial dates–not other case deadlines—are being continued, the order said. The clerk’s office isn’t accepting in-person criminal debt payments, but defendants can mail them. Sick people or those exposed to the virus can’t come to the courthouses.
U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas
Updated March 27, 1:56 p.m.
The court is exempt from stay-home orders and will keep doing its job. But it’s doing what it can to allow employees, lawyers and litigants to stay home, like deferring non-essential in-person appearances and using telephone or video conference instead. The clerks office has a reduced staff. Bankruptcy hearings are over telephone or video, said an order.
Jury trials in criminal and civil cases have been postponed until after May 1, and the delay is exempted under the Speedy Trial Act. Individual judges can still hold in-person proceedings but the court encourages them to be done remotely. Sick people or those exposed to the virus can’t go into the courthouses.
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas
Updated March 27, 1:47 p.m.
All criminal and civil jury trials are continued through May 1 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, an order said. The delay will be excluded under the Speedy Trial Act. The order also continued grand juries through May 1. Individual judges can still hold bench trials, hearings, sentencings and other proceedings on a case-by-case basis, and the court is encouraging remote hearings for those. The courthouses are still open, the order said. Sick people or those exposed to the virus aren’t allowed to visit the courthouses, according to a different order.
U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas
Updated March 27, 1:40 p.m.
The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas has closed its courts and canceled all civil or criminal matters through May 1. There’s an exception for pleas, sentencings, arraignments, and other criminal proceedings, but they might happen through video conferences. Deadlines in scheduling orders other than trial dates remain in effect. Judges must limit the number of people in courtrooms, said a March 24 order by Chief Judge Orlando Garcia.
Regarding sentencing, if a crime has a minimum sentence of 21 months or more, the hearing will be continued until after May 1, said another order. Parties can file motions for a quicker sentencing for good cause.
Tarrant County Courts
Updated March 24, 4:02 p.m.
The courts of Tarrant County have each been issuing their own orders about COVID-19. Court-at-Law No. 3 issued rules for video conference hearings. The 360th District Court canceled jury trials through April 1 and issued a temporary standing order that explains exceptions for essential cases. Five other district courts in Tarrant County canceled all dockets through April 1, with the exception of essential cases listed in the order. The county’s family district courts issued an emergency standing order that applies in all divorce cases and suits affecting the parent-child relationship.
Nueces County Courts
Updated March 20, 9:41 a.m.
In the district courts and county courts-at-law in Nueces County, judges have canceled civil and family jury trials through May 25. Criminal trials for all defendants are canceled through April 20, however, if a defendant is in custody his or her trial will continue after April 20. In the next eight weeks, the courts will hear only essential cases, which are listed in the courts’ resolution.
Texas Office of Court Administration
Updated March 20, 9:23 a.m.
A guidance document by the Texas Office of Court Administration recommended that for non-essential court proceedings, Judges and courts should continue to delay in-person proceedings of any size through at least May 1. Proceedings other than jury trials can happen remotely, though, and the office has offered judges a video conferencing tool, Zoom, to do that. The office recommended for judges to speak with their local leaders about the need to keep courthouses open for emergency matters, should their counties close down all county buildings. To the degree possible, judges and clerks should use teleworking options. It’s best not to terminate grand jury proceedings completely, since they’re allowed to continue the entire length of the current court term, which ends in June. Judges should think about working with their local sheriffs about exploring options to release non-violent misdemeanor offenders from jail, as the Texas Commission on Jail Standards has advised sheriffs to reduce jail populations.
Collin County District Courts
Updated March 20, 9:13 a.m.
Through May 8, the Collin County District Courts won’t conduct proceedings that exceed the maximum group size restrictions in the county, said a second joint statement. Anyone who is sick or was exposed to COVID-19 can’t go to the courthouse, but should call or email with questions. The courts rescheduled all in-person hearings and trials in non-essential court matters through May 8, telling lawyers to contact courts about each setting. The joint statement lists the definitions of an essential court matter, which are still proceeding, except there won’t be any jury trials. The courts plan to use Zoom.us video conferencing software for appearances.
Texas Supreme Court
Updated March 20, 9:02 a.m.
Eviction suits may not have a trial, hearing or other proceeding through April 19, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in its fourth emergency order. Deadlines are tolled until then. The order also impacts the procedures for writs of possession. Although new filings are accepted, time periods are suspended and service of citation can’t happen until after April 19. There are exceptions of a tenant or household member poses a threat of harm, or if criminal activity is involved.
Updated March 19, 3:25 p.m.
The Texas Supreme Court issued a third emergency order that mandates courts not to conduct in-person proceedings in non-essential cases in a way that violates local, state or national directives about maximum group size. As of March 19, Texas had limited groups to 10 or fewer people. The high court’s emergency order also edited a previous emergency order, which said, among other things, that courts are allowed to conduct proceedings away from the court’s normal location as long as they give notice and allow the public’s participation. Previously, courts still had to conduct business within their own counties, but that limit was removed in Thursday’s emergency order.
Also, the Texas Supreme Court’s building in Austin was closed to the public Wednesday to stop the coronavirus’ spread.
87th District Court
Updated March 20, 9:28 a.m.
The 87th District Court, which serves the counties of Anderson, Freestone, Leon and Limestone, issued an emergency order that says the court on a case-by-case basis and with or without a party’s consent may modify deadlines and procedures, allow or require teleconferencing or videoconferencing for any proceeding, and more.
33rd and 424th District Courts
Updated March 19, 10:10 a.m.
All jury trial settings were canceled through April 30 in the 33rd and 424th District Courts in Burnet, and other dockets have been canceled through April 10, according to an email by court coordinator Jennifer Bunting. The courts will proceed on essential cases: temporary restraining orders and injunctions, juvenile detention hearings, family violence protective orders and some mental health proceedings. The courts may be using more telephone or remote appearances. Grand jury proceedings are canceled through April 30.
Ellis County Courts
Updated March 19, 10:03 a.m.
Three district courts and two county courts-at-law in Waxahachie have canceled civil, criminal, and family law jury trials through April 30, and has asked attorneys to work with court coordinators to reschedule them, a joint order said. The courts will decide on April 15 whether to delay trials even longer. Some felony criminal matters are essential and will proceed, perhaps by video conference, and the courts want criminal-defense attorneys and prosecutors to collaborate on agreed orders. Hearings to take pleas from inmates are essential and will proceed every week. The grand juries are canceled until April 30, and misdemeanor dockets are postponed through April 30, which the exception of some essential proceedings, such as any proceeding that would result in the release of an incarcerated defendant. The 8-page joint order also explains how essential and nonessential matters in other case types will be handled.
District Courts of Aransas, Bee, Live Oak, McMullen and San Patricio Counties
Updated March 19, 9:39 a.m.
Jury service and jury dockets are canceled through April 1 in the 36th, 156th and 343rd District Courts, said a court notice. The courts issued a specific notice that applies to Child Protective Services hearings. No one who was exposed to the coronavirus or has symptoms is allowed to come to court, said another notice. The courts issued guidance for telephone hearings in civil cases, how to get continuances, and established a requirement for felony criminal-defendants to still appear unless appearance was waived.
Parker County’s 415th District Court
Updated March 19, 9:30 a.m.
Jury trials are canceled through April 13 but the court will proceed with non-jury dockets during that time frame, Judge Graham Quisenberry of the 415th District Court announced in a March 18 letter. But the court won’t require in-person appearances from attorneys, parties or witnesses, if they have health concerns and notify the court. The court may then arrange telephone appearances. Criminal dockets are canceled except for arraignments, done by remote video, by mail for unrepresented defendants on bond, or by waiver by defendants with lawyers. An attorney may call the court for a setting on motions, revocation hearings or plea agreements, but otherwise, all settings are canceled.
35th District Court
Updated March 19, 9:13 a.m.
The 35th District Court, which serves Brown and Mills counties, canceled jury proceedings through the first week of April, but is proceeding as scheduled with non-jury proceedings. There will be adjustments to keep dockets to a minimum, said an email by Danielle Jordan, court coordinator.
Eastland County’s 91st District Court
Updated March 18, 12:19 p.m.
The court will remain closed through April 6, said the Texas Office of Court Administration’s court closures website.
Orange County Justice of the Peace Courts
March 18, 12:18 p.m.
The county’s JP courts for Precincts 1, 2 and 3 suspended non-essential court proceedings including evictions, traffic cases, civil cases, jury and bench trials. Courts are still open to answer questions, take filings and payments, and for other essential duties. People with citations get an extra 30 days to appear in court, and it doesn’t have to be in-person, but can be through phone, mail or email.
Comal County Court-at-Law No. 1 and 2
Updated March 18, 12:23 p.m.
In Comal County Court-at-Law No. 1, all court proceedings are canceled through March 20, and the court is accepting reset requests through phone or email, said a March 16 letter. The court will remain open only for emergency or requested hearings.
In Court-at-Law No. 2, appearances are canceled for certain dockets from March 17 to April 1, and the court is sending notices about resets. Defendants who have attorneys can still submit pleas, but only through e-filing. Criminal, civil, family and probate dockets are impacted in different ways, which are explained on the Texas Office of Court Administration’s court closures website.
Smith County Courts-at-Law
Updated March 18, 12:13 p.m.
Jury trials and non-essential hearings are postponed through April 13 in the Smith County Courts-at-Law, said the Texas Office of Court Administration’s court closures website.
Caldwell County Court-at-Law
Updated March 18, 12:11 p.m.
Court offices are open, but tntil further notice, the Caldwell County Court-at-Law has cancelled criminal-probate and civil dockets. It will will keep hearing essential cases, said the Texas Office of Court Administration’s court closures website.
Chambers County’s 344th District Court
Updated March 18, 12:05 p.m.
The court will be closed until March 30, said the Texas Office of Court Administration’s court closures website.
Fort Bend County Courts-at-Law
Updated March 18, 12:04 p.m.
All of the county courts-at-law in Fort Bend County have canceled civil, probate and criminal dockets through April 10, except for essential proceedings, which are listed on the courts’ website. Also, jury trials for defendants on bond were suspended through May 8.
Victoria County Courts-at-Law No. 1 and 2
Updated March 18, 12:01 p.m.
The courts closed March 17 and will remain shuttered until further notice, said the Texas Office of Court Administration’s court closures website.
Bell County Courts
Updated March 18, 11:58 a.m.
The district courts, county courts-at-law and justice of the peace courts in Bell County will only hear essential cases through April 10. Jury trials are suspended until then. Essential cases are spelled out in the court’s administrative order. The courts are encouraging attorneys to use best judgment about what qualifies for an emergency hearing, and to contact courts to pass or reset hearings as needed. They’re ordered to contact the court if they or their clients are sick.
Guadalupe County Court-at-Law
The court has cancelled non-emergency hearings and dockets through April 13, and plans to handle emergency matters on a case-by-case basis, said the Texas Office of Court Administration’s court closures website.
Waller County Court-at-Law
March 18, 11:54 a.m.
Between March 20 and April 12, the court has suspended all court proceedings, including jury trials, bench trials, criminal dockets and ancillary matters. The exception is emergency orders about children, temporary restraining orders or injunctions, habeas corpus proceedings, Child Protective Services removals, and bond hearings.
Fannin County’s 336th District Court
Updated March 18, 11:51 a.m.
The court canceled jury panels through April 6, but plans to proceed as normal for the remainder of the docket. However, children involved in Child Protective Services cases won’t be brought to court through April 1.
506th District Court
Updated March 18, 11:50 a.m.
Lawyers must contact clients to ask if they have any COVID-19 symptoms before they come to court, and if so, the client must stay away and the lawyer must reset the case, said a March 13 order by the 506th District Court, which serves Grimes and Waller counties. The court implemented other procedures to limit the number of people at arraignments, reset cases until May, and ask prosecutors and criminal-defense lawyers to work out agreements on bond reductions and prepare plea agreements to move swiftly in court to limit exposure. In a second emergency order, the court suspended jury trials, bench trials and ancillary matters until April 12, with exceptions for essential matters listed out in the order. Among other things, the court extended the statute of limitations in civil cases and made it clear that teleconference and video conference hearings are allowed, and the court may conduct proceedings outside the courthouse.
Hood County’s 355th District Court
Updated March 18, 11:38 a.m.
The 355th District Court in Hood County has canceled its jury trial docket on March 23, but plans to proceed as scheduled on remaining dockets, said a notice on the court closure website of the Texas Office of Court Administration.
County Courts Across Texas
Updated March 18, 11:37 a.m.
More and more constitutional county courts in Texas counties are announcing closures due to the pandemic. Check the Texas Office of Court Administration’s court closures website for full details.
Municipal Courts Across Texas
Updated March 18, 11:33 a.m.
The number of municipal courts that they are closing because of COVID-19 has been growing exponentially this week. Because the list is very lengthy, please check the Texas Office of Court Administration court closures website for full details.
Eighth Court of Appeals in El Paso
Updated March 18, 11:30 a.m.
There won’t be any oral arguments through the month of March in El Paso’s Eighth Court of Appeals, said a court statement. If it’s necessary, the court can keep up operations with its staff and justices working remotely. For that reason, it’s not making any across-the-board changes to briefing schedules or deadlines in current appeals. The court will handle any individual situation arising from the outbreak through appropriate motions. There is an oral argument scheduled for May 7, and the court is expecting to schedule more through the summer.
Cherokee County’s 2nd District Court
Updated March 18, 11:24 a.m.
Judge R. Chris Day of the 2nd District Court in Rusk wrote in an email that he has canceled jury trials through the end of March.
Hill County’s 66th District Court
Updated March 18, 11:21 a.m.
Hill County’s 66th District Court has suspended all deadlines and procedures, including the statute of limitations in civil matters, until 30 days after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s state of disaster declaration is lifted, said the court’s emergency order. The court granted permission for anyone involved in any hearing, deposition or other court proceeding to participate remotely by telephone or video conferencing. The court may be conducting business from elsewhere within Hill County that is not the courthouse, but will notify parties first. The order said every participant must notify the court of anyone’s illness with COVID-19 or its symptoms. The order expires May 8 unless the court extends the timeframe.
Hutchinson County District Courts
Updated March 18, 11:14 a.m.
Through March 31, the 84th and 316th district courts will only hear essential proceedings: criminal magistrations, Child Protective Services removal hearings, TRO matters, and other proceedings listed in the judge’s March 13 letter to counsel. Other matters can be heard by telephone at a time that the parties and court agree upon. Any lawyer, client or witness is sick with COVID-19 or has flu-like symptoms, fever, coughing or sneezing, the judge ordered them to postpone the hearing or make reasonable accommodations. Jan Lewis, court coordinator of the 84th District Court, wrote in an email that her court is following the same procedures.
Fourth Court of Appeals in San Antonio
Updated March 18, 11:13 a.m.
The justices and staff of the Fourth Court of Appeals are working remotely, but otherwise, the court is fully operational, said a notice on the court’s website. Lawyers can keep submitting filings through e-filing and sending case records through the courts’ record submission portal. The court is asking pro se filers to mail their filings to the Fourth Court’s clerk’s office.
Third Court of Appeals in Austin
Updated March 18, 11:06 a.m.
There won’t be any oral arguments in Austin’s Third Court of Appeals through May 8. Using remote technology and e-filing, the court is working to resolve appeals during the coronavirus pandemic, said a March 17 order. All appellate timelines and deadlines in cases aren’t impacted, but if a lawyer has special circumstances and needs an extension, or wishes to submit a case on the briefs alone, the court will consider written requests.
Brazoria County Courts
Updated March 18, 10:45 a.m.
The Brazoria County Bar Association is keeping a list of local courts that have altered their operations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Jury service was canceled from March 16 to March 30. Lawyers should call court coordinators to reschedule certain types of matters, explained in individual court orders issued by these courts: 412th District Court, 461st District Court, 239th District Court, and County Courts-at-Law No. 2 and 4. Brazoria County’s family law judges in the 300th and 461st District Courts are only hearing essential matters, and allowing telephone hearings by request.
Texas Supreme Court
Updated March 17, 9:26 a.m.
The Texas Supreme Court on March 16 ordered four pending oral arguments—the last of this term—to be postponed. The court will determine later when it’s going to reschedule the arguments .
State Bar of Texas
Updated March 16, 3:54 p.m.
The attorney disciplinary system is being impacted by COVID-19. The State Bar of Texas has been contacting parties, lawyers and witnesses about postponing investigatory hearings and evidentiary hearings scheduled through the end of April. Hearings scheduled in May are still going forward, but the bar plans to evaluate their status with new coronavirus information that will come out in April. Regarding trials in attorney disciplinary cases, the bar has encouraged parties and their counsel to contact the assistant chief disciplinary counsel on the case to determine next steps.
The bar has also decided to cancel, postpone or go online with all live events through May 10, said a March 16 email notice. Bar employees are working remotely, and the bar’s headquarters and regional offices are closed to visitors temporarily. While the bar is still providing services, it could take longer to answer calls and emails. The bar is offering free CLE webinars this week about invoking force majeure clauses in contracts, and practicing law amid coronavirus.
Voting for president-elect of the bar and of Texas Young Lawyers Association will still take place in April, however, the candidates have suspended in-person campaigning.
In earlier news, State Bar committees now only can meet through teleconference or videoconference, and the bar has strongly encouraged State Bar sections to switch to remote meetings. It advised their members to avoid air and out-of-state travel, and to keep the option of cancelling any events requiring out-of-state or international travel.
El Paso County Courts
Updated March 16, 3:31 p.m.
The El Paso County Council of Judges announced that its courts would reschedule or suspend non-essential proceedings. Jury trials and large docket calls won’t occur until at least April 1. Essential proceedings, defined in the council’s order, would move forward. Individual courts keep the discretion to hold criminal pleas, bond hearings and contested matters. Misdemeanor courts will only hear cases where a defendant is imprisoned, and other cases need to be rescheduled. The courts have encouraged telephone conferencing, and are waiting for the county’s information technology department to set up video conferencing for remote appearances. Since jury trials won’t be happening, it means jurors are excused from service and lawyers must call witnesses to excuse them from appearing.
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
Updated March 16, 1:28 p.m.
Starting March 16, and extending until further notice, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has closed its headquarters at the John Minor Wisdom Building to the public, according to a notice on the court’s website. The clerk’s office is open, but if a paper filing is required, a clerk will accept delivery at the building’s entrance. The court cancelled in-person oral arguments for March 30 to April 2. Clerk’s office staff are calling attorneys about whether telephonic arguments are a possibility. If that occurs, the court plans to post audio files of the arguments on the court’s website.
Harris County Criminal Courts-at-Law
March 16, 11:55 a.m.
A March 13 notice said that Harris County Criminal Court-at-Law Judges aren’t making criminal-defendants on the bond docket appear in court unless they’re set for arraignment, a plea, they’re self-represented, or a judge specifically ordered their appearance. Anyone who doesn’t fit those four exceptions will not see bond forfeitures or revocations for missing court. Until further notice, defendants who have lawyers aren’t supposed to attend their court settings. The judges ordered people who are sick with COVID-19 symptoms to stay away from court. Lawyers should know that dockets are still running except in County Court-at-Law No. 8, however, jury services are suspended until March 20.
Harris County District Courts
Updated March 16, 12:35 p.m.
Twenty-four judges in Harris County who handle civil cases won’t hold any jury trials in March because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Read a list of the 24 courts here.
507th District Judge Julia Maldonado wrote in a statement on March 12 that the family district courts in Harris County have postponed most in-person hearings and trials. For the rest of March, there will not be any family district court jury trials. Only “essential court matters” will proceed as normal. Read the full notice here.
The district courts for juvenile and criminal cases will cancel jury service from March 13 to 20, said 129th District Judge Michael Gomez, the county’s civil administrative judge. A notice on the district courts’ website said that certain “essential court matters” will move forward. If Harris County decides to close county buildings, then the district courts will close and reschedule essential court matters at alternative locations. If the Houston Independent School District closes schools, then the district courts will also close, but if schools stay closed for more than seven days, the courts will announce an alternate schedule. Lawyers should check the courts’ website for updates.
The criminal district courts are changing appearance requirements for criminal defendants through April 3, said a notice on the Harris County District Clerk’s website. Check the notice for details.
Cherokee County Court-at-Law
March 16, 11:45 a.m.
The Cherokee County Court-at-Law was canceling dockets for attorney general cases, Child Protective Services cases during the week of March 16, and cancelled jury selection through March 23, said a notice on the court’s website. Also, the court won’t hold jail run dockets until April 1.
Title IV-D Courts Across Texas
Updated March 16, 11:39 a.m.
In multiple counties, the courts that handle child support cases have announced court closures, according to the Texas Office of Court Administration’s court closures website. Child support courts were closed until April 1, or longer, in Williamson, Bastrop, Bosque, Hamilton, Hill, McLennon and Navarro counties.
Bosque County’s 220th District Court
Updated March 16, 11:38 a.m.
According to the Texas Office of Court Administration’s court closures list, the 220th District Court in Bosque County will be closed through April 6.
Val Verde County District Courts
Updated March 16, 11:36 a.m.
The 63rd District Court and 83rd District Court in Val Verde County will be closed through April 1 because of coronavirus, according to the Texas Office of Court Administration’s court closures list.
Bowie County courts
Updated March 16, 11:25 a.m.
The 202nd District Court in Bowie County and the Bowie County Court-at-Law will be closed through April 1 because of the pandemic, according to a notice on the court closures website by the Texas Office of Court Administration.
Travis County District Courts
Updated March 13, 5:20 p.m.
Civil and family courts are suspending non-emergency hearings until April 13, said an emergency order, which noted it begins March 16 and impacts all jury trials, bench trials, and non-essential hearings. For the next four weeks, those non-emergency hearings will be postponed and need to be rescheduled. Lawyers and litigants should exercise “best judgment” about whether their hearing is an emergency, the order said, and wait for a response from court administration before they go to court in person for any matter. The number of court staff will be reduced, and only available for emergency in-person hearings. The courts are asking that lawyers who have an agreed matter or non-evidentiary matter, and do not need a record, to submit their motion and proposed order to the court for consideration.
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
Updated March 13, 2:57 p.m.
The state’s highest criminal court closed on March 13 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a notice on its website. It will reopen on March 16, the court reported to the Texas Office of Court Administration.
Texas Supreme Court
Updated March 13, 8:49 a.m.
The Texas Supreme Court issued a guidance notice for Texas courts about new procedures for COVID-19.
Courts should reschedule or postpone jury trials and large docket calls through at least April 1 to avoid gathering large groups of people. Courts that decide there’s an unreasonable risk to people, should delay non-essential in-person proceedings, or use telephone or video for remote appearances. When possible, they should use telephone or video appearances.
There are still some essential proceedings: criminal magistrations, Child Protective Services removal hearings, temporary restraining orders or injunctions, juvenile detention hearings, family violence protective orders, and some mental health proceedings.
Courts should tell anyone with COVID-19 or flu-like symptoms–fever, coughing or sneezing–to contact the court before appearing. Lawyers should notify the court if they know clients, witnesses or others have these symptoms. In these cases, courts should make accommodations or reschedule appearances.
The Supreme Court urged local courts to consult with their local health authorities for more guidance about when to suspend proceedings, because local community conditions vary from place to place. The high court also asked other Texas courts to send notifications of suspended proceedings to firstname.lastname@example.org, or to fill out this web form.
Collin County District Courts and County Courts-at-Law
Updated March 13, 9:35 a.m.
In a joint statement, the Collin County District Courts and County Courts-at-Law asked anyone who’s sick, or was exposed to COVID-19, to call the courts to reschedule hearings or trials. The courts have rescheduled, and will not have any jury trials in all non-essential court matters between March 16 and April 1. The courts are not going to hear any noncontested matters, but will handle such agreed orders and matters by submission only.
The Collin County district courts are working on a plan for electronic appearances.
Lawyers have to call the courts about essential court matters, which are proceeding as scheduled. Read the courts’ joint statement for a full list of essential matters in family, criminal, civil and juvenile cases.
According to the joint statement, any criminal defendant who is free on bail, and has an attorney, does not need to appear in court. However, for the district courts, the criminal-defense attorney must email pass slips, containing the defendant’s signature, to the court by noon on the appearance date. For the county courts-at-law, the defense attorney must call the court administrator or bailiff to reschedule their client’s court date.
New updates will be coming out on the websites of the Collin County District Courts and District Clerk. The county courts-at-law plan to post updates on each court’s own website. Check the joint notice for a list of county court-at-law website links.
Wise and Jack Counties’ 271st District Court
Updated March 13, 9:35 a.m.
The Decatur-based 271st District Court announced that through March and April, there won’t be any criminal, family or civil trials in the court. Criminal-defendants do not need to attend announcement dockets and final pretrial dockets, but their criminal-defense attorneys and prosecutors must still attend. Remember, arraignments can be waived, the court’s notice said. As for civil and family case hearings, the court said only essential persons are to attend.
“My hope is that by May, we are in a better position to resume our regular practices including jury trials,” wrote Judge Brock R. Smith.
Williamson County District Courts
Judge Betsy Lambeth of the 425th District Court notified Texas Lawyer that all of Williamson County’s district courts and county courts-at-law are currently exercising discretion case-by-case about calling bench or jury trials, but this situation could change. Lawyers must look up each court’s website for updates. Lambeth wrote that lawyers and litigants shouldn’t come to court if they’re sick, but instead, should call the court’s administrator. The courts are trying to reduce the number of people visiting the courthouse, increasing janitorial services, and encouraging personal hygiene measures. If the coronavirus situation worsens, the courts may stop holding jury trials.
“Please do not bring sick clients or witnesses or yourself to the courthouse. This is not just about protecting you, who may be able to withstand the disease. This is about protecting those in our community that cannot survive the virus,” wrote Lambeth.