BY JOHN FROEHLING
Courts in the Ninth Judicial Circuit will remain open, but civil cases and other non-essential matters will be postponed due to the global coronavirus pandemic. Vital matters will continue to be heard. Reducing other operations will take place to minimize personal contact and deter the spread of COVID-19.
Emergencies, suspects in custody of authorities, juvenile detention and temporary custody hearings and petitions for orders of protection will be addressed as scheduled. The Ninth Circuit includes the counties of Fulton, Hancock, Henderson, Knox, McDonough and Warren.
David L. Vancil Jr., Chief Judge of the Ninth Judicial Circuit, issued an administrative order as to those procedures effective Tuesday, March 17, which shall remain in effect until further order of the court.
Vancil also issued a press release on precautions the courts of the circuit will take to protect the health of all who may be in circuit courthouses. Those include disinfecting high-contact surface areas often and other plans.
The administrative order noted the postponement of scheduled court dates for the following:
–Civil matters, including jury trials
–Traffic violations (TR, DT)
–Ordinance violations (OV, CL)
–Misdemeanor cases (CM)
–Small claims (SC)
–Family cases (F,D)
–Law magistrate (LM, L, CH)
–Juvenile cases (except as outlined below)
–Criminal and traffic reviews and status hearings
–Tax cases (TX)
Each party litigant shall receive a notice in the mail upon rescheduling. Litigants are directed to ensure that their mailing addresses are updated and current. Litigants may contact the Circuit Clerk in the county of the pending case with any questions.
Emergency matters may be scheduled on a case-by-case basis. Individuals shall contact the Circuit Clerk in the county where the case is to be heard for the purpose of seeking approval from the court to schedule an emergency matter.
CASES GOING FORWARD
The administrative order noted the following court proceedings will be held as scheduled, with appearances expected for all litigants, unless travel or health exemptions apply (see below):
–All matters with individuals in-custody, including bond review
–Criminal felony matters except probation and payment reviews
–Juvenile temporary custody hearings (shelter care)
–Juvenile detention hearings
–Petitions for emergency orders of protection/no contact or stalking orders (OP)
–Plenary orders of protection/no contact or stalking orders
–Emergency hearings in family matters (D and F cases) scheduled with approval of the court
–Any other emergency hearing as scheduled and approved by the Court
Also, the administrative order said it is requested individuals not enter the courthouse if they:
–Have been in any of the following countries within the last 21 days: China, South Korea, Italy, Japan, Iran, or
–Reside or have close contact with anyone who has been in one of those countries listed above within the last 21 days; or
–Have been directed to quarantine, isolate or self-monitor at home for the coronavirus by any medical provider; or
–Have been diagnosed with, or have had close contact with anyone diagnosed with, COVID-19; or
–Have flu-like symptoms including fever, cough or shortness of breath
Attorneys or litigants who have a scheduled case, appointment or are otherwise required to appear at the courthouse in connection with a court case, but are unable to appear because of the above restrictions, please contact the Circuit Clerk in the county where the case is pending.
Details of Vancil’s press release on precautions the courts will take for health reasons include the following:
–Court facilities and employees: All employees have been encouraged to wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands; stay home when ill or if having had contact with anyone who has the COVID-19 coronavirus; avoid close contact with persons who are sick; and clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects. Custodial staff are conducting regular cleaning and disinfection of court facilities with emphasis on public areas which have frequent contact (doorknobs, restroom and elevator areas, etc.).
–Attorneys, litigants and parties to a case: If you have a case scheduled and you begin to feel ill, you should consider contacting the opposing party or attorney to explore an agreed continuance. If there is no agreement, contact the Circuit Clerk’s Office to advise that you are unable to attend court. Judges will consider on a case-by-case basis whether the continuance of a court date is in order. Providing medical documentation of your condition will be of assistance.
–Jury service: If you are summoned for jury service and are experiencing any symptoms of illness, please contact the Circuit Clerk of your county and advise them of the situation for further instruction before coming in person to the court facilities.
–General public: If you are experiencing any acute respiratory illness symptoms (cough, shortness of breath, headaches), flu-like symptoms, fever, coughing or sneezing, please do not come to the court facilities. If you do come to the court facility with such symptoms, the court may refuse you access to the court facilities.
–Adult and Juvenile Probation, Juvenile Detention, Court Services: All probation, detention and court services facilities remain open.
A plan has been developed to limit contact with persons who are exhibiting symptoms of illness. Probationers should contact their probation officer via telephone and follow their directions. Probationers should not appear at the probation office.
This situation presents challenges to the Court’s normal operating procedures. The Ninth Circuit continues to examine procedures to preserve the public health while continuing to perform the function of an operational court system. Your patience and understanding are greatly appreciated.