Just this week, Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady issued an order (AOSC20-23, Amendment 1), which suspended jury trials through July 2, 2020, and directed the courts of this state to hold hearings and other proceedings by way of video conference or telephone. These efforts are an extension of his previous suspension of jury trials, jury selection and grand jury proceedings through May 29, 2020, in an effort to try to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus at courthouses.
In addition, Justice Canady has directed that other proceedings such as non-jury trials, motion hearings, and juvenile-delinquency hearings and hearings in non-criminal traffic infraction cases are to be held by videoconference or by telephone. Circuit chief judges are to decide whether holding proceedings remotely is either legally barred or not feasible for technological reasons.
Essential court proceedings still are taking place. Among other essential proceedings, this includes emergency temporary guardianship hearings, where the criteria for the guardianship judge is determining if an emergency temporary guardianship should be established and specific findings are required. Florida Statute 744.3031(1) provides, in relevant part:
[…]The court must specifically find that there appears to be imminent danger that the physical or mental health or safety of the person will be seriously impaired or that the person’s property is in danger of being wasted, misappropriated, or lost unless immediate action is taken. […]
Justice Canady was clear in his order, that no proceedings other than those essential proceedings or proceedings critical to the state of emergency or the public health emergency are to be conducted in person; everything else is to be conducted remotely, either by telephone or videoconference. Of course, all safeguards are to be utilized by the courts to minimize exposure of the Coronavirus to the individuals involved in the proceedings or the general public. This includes provisions on the remote swearing-in of witnesses for purposes of in-court testimony. Interestingly, this week, the Florida Supreme Court is scheduled to hold oral argument for the first time by using videoconferencing.
If you are wondering whether your current probate, trust, or litigation matter is still scheduled, or the method of how your court proceeding will be conducted, reach out to your attorney who can explain these novelties.