Several courts across Missouri and beyond have taken steps, including suspending jury trials and high-volume dockets, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri
The Western District’s Mediation and Assessment Program has set requirements for mediations held on or before April 14.
Individuals required to travel from out of town to attend mediations, as well as individuals who have compromised health, may instead appear by interactive means, such as telephone, videoconference, FaceTime or Skype, “so long as they are fully participating in the mediation for the entire duration. Being available to receive an occasional call does not satisfy the remote appearance modification.”
Please direct any questions to the MAP office at 816-512-5080.
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri
The court announced in a news release that it is restricting certain people from entering district courthouses, effective March 13.
Under the order of Chief Judge Rodney W. Sippel, the following people will not be allowed to enter the district’s courthouses:
Those who have traveled to any foreign country within the last 14 days
Those who reside or have had close contact with someone who has traveled to a foreign country within the last 14 days
Those who have been asked to self-quarantine by a doctor, hospital or health agency
Those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have had contact with a person diagnosed with it
Those with unexplained fever, cough or shortness of breath
According to the release, anyone attempting to enter the courthouse in violation of these protocols will be denied entry by court security officers.
Attorneys scheduled to appear at an EDMO courthouse but who fall into those categories are encouraged to contact judges’ chambers directly.
St. Louis Circuit Court
In St. Louis Circuit Court, jury trials will be suspended until April 13. Presiding Circuit Judge Rex M. Burlison issued the order during an emergency meeting of the court en banc March 13 in the St. Louis Civil Courts Building.
“The circuit’s intention is to make the courts available to the public during this health crisis but to reduce the public’s exposure as much as possible until we have further direction from public health authorities,” Burlison stated in a news release.
Walk-in wedding ceremonies are also postponed until further notice. Weddings had been scheduled for 2 p.m. March 20, April 3 and 17 at the Civil Courts Building.
The week of April 6 is a non-jury week so the decision will only affect trials scheduled for the next three weeks, Jury Supervisor Joanne Martin said. Those who received a jury summons for March 16 through April 3 should not report for duty and will be returned to the general jury pool.
Essential court functions such as insuring orders of protection and bond reviews for newly detained individuals will continue, said Thom Gross, public information officer for the 22nd Judicial Circuit of Missouri.
Judges were asked to report to Burlison how they intend to prevent contamination, including limiting the amount of people allowed in the courtroom.
The public health situation remains fluid, and the court could make further adjustments as considered appropriate, Burlison noted in the release.
St. Louis County Circuit Court
Presiding Judge Michael D. Burton issued an administrative order March 13 in which he scaled back court operations but said the courthouse would remain open.
Under his order, no jurors will be summoned for the weeks of March 16 and March 23, and municipal court proceedings will be suspended. Weddings, courthouse tours, meetings with outside groups, after-hours classes and community events will be postponed, and the public resource center and law library will be closed.
Criminal cases in which defendants are not in custody will be postponed and rescheduled. Hearings involving criminal defendants and probation revocation matters in which the defendant is in custody will be conducted by video-conference. Hearings on other criminal, civil, domestic, juvenile and probate cases will be postponed and rescheduled unless a specific judge assigned to that case notifies the parties that the hearing will proceed as scheduled.
Also to be postponed and rescheduled are large volume, high volume and/or multi-case dockets, including but not limited to Associate Circuit Court high volume civil dockets, Circuit Court civil case management dockets, Associate and Circuit Court domestic “call” dockets, landlord/tenant dockets/cases, small claims dockets/cases, uncontested dissolution dockets/cases, traffic and municipal dockets/cases, and treatment court dockets, including the SAFETI Family Drug Court, Burton said.
Full order of protection hearings scheduled for the weeks of March 16 and March 23 will be continued and rescheduled. All ex parte orders of protection currently in effect are extended until the new hearing date.
Juvenile detention hearings and protective custody hearings will proceed as scheduled, as will hearings for juveniles in custody at the county Juvenile Detention Center. All other hearings in abuse and neglect cases may be continued for good cause. All other delinquency cases and termination-of-parental-rights cases scheduled during the weeks of March 16 and March 23 will be continued and rescheduled.
The Family Exchange Center and parent visits supervised by the Family Court will remain in operation, but hours may be reduced subject to staffing limitations. The Adult Abuse Office will continue its normal operations.
Jackson County Circuit Court
The Jackson County Circuit Court issued an administrative order March 13 that suspends all jury trials and high-volume dockets scheduled for the weeks of March 16 and March 23.
According to the order, individual hearings on specific criminal, civil, domestic and probate cases will proceed as scheduled unless the specific judge assigned to the case takes action under the administrative order. The court has strongly encouraged judicial officers to consider alternative means for conducting hearings.
Under the order, in all criminal cases where the defendant is in custody at the Jackson County Detention Center, defendants will not be transported to court for hearings. Instead, all hearings will be conducted by videoconferencing, including initial appearances and arraignments.
At the Juvenile Justice Center, all detention hearings and protective custody hearings will proceed as scheduled, while other family court cases set for the weeks of March 16 and March 23 will be rescheduled.
Johnson County, Kansas
In Johnson County, Kansas, which has had four confirmed cases of COVID-19, the 10th Judicial District Court has also canceled jury trials scheduled through May 1.
Chief Judge Thomas Kelly issued an administrative order March 13 stating that while the courthouse and its offices will remain open, the court system cannot function without juries. All scheduled jury trials are continued pending further order of the court.
The court will continue to hear other matters at the courthouse as determined by individual judges.
The order comes a day after Kansas Governor Laura Kelly declared a state of emergency to address COVID-19.
Kansas City Municipal Court
In Kansas City, the judges of the Municipal Court voted at an emergency court meeting on March 12 to modify court operations following Mayor Quinton Lucas’ declaration of a state of emergency.
The court has cancelled court hearings scheduled from March 16 to April 10 for defendants not in custody, with the exception of hearings scheduled for domestic violence court, drug court, mental health court and veterans treatment court cases.
The court also canceled all walk-in dockets from March 16 through April 10. The court itself will be remain open for business. Court employees, including prosecutors, are still working at the courthouse.
St. Louis area
Several legal organizations in the St. Louis region banded together March 13 to recommend policy changes to Missouri officials that they say will help populations who are at the highest risk for contracting COVID-19.
ArchCity Defenders sent a letter to local and state officials, including court officials and prosecutors, in which it outlined the challenges of those high-risk groups, including the unhoused, the working poor, immigrants and people with disabilities. The policy recommendations also extend to areas within local governments and the criminal justice system, including police and immigration enforcement, courts, and jails, prisons and juvenile detention facilities.
Some examples of the recommendations include:
Abstaining from arresting people for ordinance violations, misdemeanors and non-violent felonies
Suspending immediately the in-person operations of all circuit, associate and municipal court divisions except those that are required to address orders of protection, confined individuals and other exigent circumstances, with periodic reassessment as to whether normal operations may resume
Releasing all individuals from jail who have not been preventatively detained for posing a danger to the community or a flight risk, including those held on cash bail and awaiting probation violation hearings or parole revocation hearings
Co-signers of the letter include the ACLU of Missouri, the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center, the St. Louis University Civil Litigation Clinic and the Missouri State Public Defender System.
Federal Bureau of Prisons
The Federal Bureau of Prisons announced today that it is suspending social visits and legal visits to inmates for 30 days.
According to a news release, lawyers can receive case-by-case accommodation to visit with their clients in that time period, however. Inmates will also be allowed confidential calls to ensure they maintain access to counsel.
Attorneys seeking an in-person visit with their client or a confidential call should contact the institution’s Executive Assistant or contact the appropriate Consolidated Legal Center for the BOP institution.
If approved for an in-person visit, the attorney will need to under the same screening procedures as staff, the release said.
The Missouri Bar
In its weekly email March 13, The Missouri Bar said it is temporarily suspending its in-person events. The organization will provide updates to those who have already registered for events or are otherwise affected as more details become available.
27th Judicial Circuit
In the 27th Circuit, which covers Henry, St. Clair and Bates counties, the court said its facilities will remain open. The court will schedule events and use of additional courthouse spaces to prevent or lessen overcrowding in the courtrooms, will use tele- and videoconferencing when available and will thoroughly clean all surfaces and courtrooms.
31st Judicial Circuit
The Green County Circuit Court said it plans to stay open. Courtrooms will be cleaned and disinfected at the conclusion of court sessions, judges will take steps to reduce crowding in courtrooms and during jury selection, and tele- and videoconferencing will be used when appropriate.
34th Judicial Circuit
In the 34th Circuit, which covers New Madrid and Pemiscot counties, the juvenile offices are asking juveniles who are on formal and informal probation to check in by phone rather than attend face-to-face meetings.
Referral sources are asked not to send juveniles or their parents to the office without prior authorization from a juvenile officer. Officials say they will screen referrals based upon the urgency of the situation and might hold off on processing non-emergency referrals. Staff in both offices will continue to report as usual.
29th Judicial District (Wyandotte County, Kansas)
Judges for Kansas’ 29th Judicial Circuit in Wyandotte County decided to also postpone all jury trials through April 19, according to court administrator Anita Peterson. Peterson said the courthouse will remain open otherwise, and judges will still hear their other dockets.
For updates on courts that weren’t mentioned here, check Missouri’s courts website.
By Jessica Shumaker and Allen Fennewald | Missouri Lawyers Media molawyersmedia.com