Missouri Judiciary Launches Interactive Tool as Courts Reopen

The Missouri Courts’ main COVID-19 alerts page has been redeveloped to enable users to determine quickly the phase in which a court is operating as courts begin the process of reopening under the Supreme Court of Missouri’s May 4 order and administrative guidelines, which became effective May 16.

Circuit court and appellate court information will be available using the drop-down menus or the interactive maps (which toggle between circuit/county and appellate district views). Clicking on any county or district will take users to a page with the court’s notices and orders. The map is followed by a searchable, sortable table for municipal division information. If there is specific information available for a particular municipal division, it will be included in the table. Otherwise, the municipal division may be covered by a countywide order. Clicking on the hyperlinked name of the municipal division will take users to a page with the division’s notices and orders.

Both the maps and the table are color-coded according to operating phase. A key to the operating phases also is included on the COVID alerts page. Pursuant to the Court’s order and administrative guidelines, all courts currently are operating in Phase Zero; beginning May 16, they could begin moving to Phase One operations if they met the Court’s guidelines.

The Missouri Courts’ COVID alerts page remains available at https://www.courts.mo.gov/pandemic/. The new design went live May 16.

Missouri Supreme Court Issues Directive to Resume Court Activities

The Supreme Court of Missouri has issued an order and operational directives, effective May 16, to help courts statewide establish localized plans – recognizing the varying community health safeguards and court dockets, facilities and staffing levels across the state – for easing COVID-19 restrictions on in person proceedings. Since mid-March, the state’s courts have been operating under precautionary measures to help combat the spread of the disease while ensuring they remain open to conduct business as necessary to carry out their core, constitutional functions.

Under the order, activities in all appellate and circuit courts – including all associate, family, juvenile, municipal and probate divisions – will continue to be restricted in some respect, and courts are encouraged to use all available technologies to conduct activities remotely to limit the number of in-person proceedings conducted in courthouses. The order authorizes judges presiding over civil matters to waive, for good cause shown, deadlines or time limitations set by state or local court rule (but not those set by a statutory or constitutional provision) and directs courts to adopt measures to ensure timely filing by self represented litigants (who lack access to Missouri’s electronic filing system).

The order further enacts operational directives establishing uniform “gateway criteria” for Missouri courts to begin resuming – gradually as local conditions permit – activities previously suspended. Under the operational directives, also effective May 16, to help make paramount the health and welfare of litigants, witnesses, victims, jurors, attorneys, judicial employees and other individuals involved in judicial proceedings in determining whether a courthouse is ready to progress through four defined operating phases, local courts:

  • Should monitor local circumstances and conditions on a regular basis.
  • Should work with local health officials, law enforcement officers, children’s division personnel, juvenile officers, prosecutors and public defenders, and local attorneys in adapting their plans for moving through operating phases to local health conditions.
  • May move to a new operating phase only after being in the prior operating phase at least 14 calendar days, with no confirmed COVID-19 cases in the court facility and improving COVID-19 health conditions in the community during that time.
  • May revert to a prior operating phase immediately when required by local conditions and circumstances.


Regardless of the phase in which they may be operating, local courts should:

  • Allow (or, in phase three, consider allowing) “vulnerable individuals” as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to postpone their required presence in a court proceeding.
  • Follow social-distancing protocols and consider requiring the use of masks or other face coverings.
  • Clean and disinfect common areas and consider providing hand sanitizers and wipes.

The Court intends to issue further operational directives for conducting grand and petit jury proceedings as pandemic and health conditions improve.

Governor Parson Makes Court Appointments

Governor Mike Parson ​appointed two prosecuting attorneys and two judges on Friday, May 1.

He ​appointed Kelly W. Puckett as the Grundy County ​Prosecuting Attorney​ and William Lynch as the Newton County Prosecuting Attorney.

Puckett has served as the interim prosecuting attorney for Grundy County since January 2019. He holds bachelor’s degree in legal studies from Missouri Western State University and a Juris Doctorate from Washburn University School of Law. 
 
Lynch has served as the interim prosecuting attorney since the Honorable Judge Jake Skouby took office as an Associate Circuit Judge in the 40th Judicial Circuit.​ ​Lynch holds bachelor’s degree from Missouri Southern State University and a master’s degree and Juris Doctorate from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Gov​.​ Parson ​also ​appointed the Honorable Scott A. Lipke as Circuit Judge for the 32nd Judicial Circuit​ and he ​appointed Alan Beussink as Associate Circuit Judge for the 32nd  Judicial Circuit.
 
Lipke​ will fill the Circuit Judge vacancy created by the appointment of the Honorable Michael Gardner to​ the​ Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District.​ ​Lipke, of Jackson, is currently serving as an Associate Circuit Judge of the 32nd Judicial Circuit. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky, and a Juris Doctorate from Valparaiso University School of Law in Valparaiso, Indiana.
 
Beussink will fill the Associate Circuit Judge vacancy created by the departure of the Honorable Scott. E. Thomsen.​ ​Beussink, of Leopold, currently serves as a partner at the law firm Whiffen and Beussink. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law.

Appeals Court Turns Down CCW Argument

The Court of Appeals Eastern District ruled April 21 that a man whose felonies would be just misdemeanors in some other states still can’t get a concealed carry license.

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department denied Tonie M. Townsend a permit because he had pleaded guilty in 1999 in Missouri to two felony counts of criminal non-support. Though he had completed his probation — and was pardoned in 2016 by Gov. Jay Nixon — the fact that Townsend had pleaded guilty to the felonies remained on his record, disqualifying him from a concealed carry permit.

On appeal, Townsend argued that Missouri’s concealed carry law makes an exception if the​​ person’s crime is “classified as a misdemeanor under the laws of any state.” At least seven other states treat non-support as a misdemeanor even if it carries a sentence greater than one year, and Townsend argued that his prior crimes should receive similar treatment.

The appeals court, however, said Townsend’s interpretation was “illogical.” The concealed carry permit law, Judge Gary M. Gaertner Jr. wrote, “includes no intent to require the Sheriff to search the laws of all 50 states to determine the effect of a Missouri felony guilty plea on a CCW permit application.”

The case is Townsend v. Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department, ED107660.

By Scott Lauck  | molawyersmedia.com

Photo by KY3

Supreme Court Responds to Risk of Exposure to COVID-19 in Jails, Prisons

In response to questions about the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in prisons and county and city jails, ​on March 30 ​the Supreme Court of Missouri sent all state judges a letter calling attention to the various rules and statutes governing pretrial release of individuals charged with offenses but not yet found guilty as well as those governing release of individuals who have been found guilty and sentenced. 

 
In doing so, the Court leaves decisions about the release of any particular individuals to the discretion of local judges to make appropriate decisions under the facts and circumstances of each particular case. 
 
The verbiage of the letter, ​which is ​available on the Missouri Courts’ COVID-19 alerts page, is included below:

Re: Jail Populations and the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)

Dear Judges,

As a result of recent inquiries regarding the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in prisons and county and city jails, the Supreme Court of Missouri wants to call attention to the following rules and statutes.

In 2019, this Court revised its bond and pretrial release rules. Rule 33.01 addresses a defendant’s right to be released from custody pending trial. Rule 29.18 provides individuals detained as a result of a probation or parole violation also have a right to release prior to any final hearing on the matter. Likewise, Rule 37.15 addresses a defendant’s right to be released from custody following an ordinance violation.

Once a defendant has been convicted and sentenced, the power of courts to order release of an incarcerated offender is governed by statute. Missouri courts have the statutory authority to release an offender sentenced to a term in the county jail on judicial parole. Specifically, section 559.100.1 provides:

The circuit courts of this state shall have power, herein provided, to place on probation or to parole persons convicted of any offense over which they have jurisdiction, except as otherwise provided in section 559.115, section 565.020, sections 566.030, 566.060, 566.067, 566.125, 566.151, and 566.210, section 571.015, section 579.170, and subsection 3 of section 589.425.

This authority is limited by section 559.115.1, which provides: “Neither probation nor parole shall be granted by the circuit court between the time the transcript on appeal from the offender’s conviction has been filed in appellate court and the disposition of the appeal by such court.”

Section 559.115.2 further provides that, subject to the limitations in section 559.115.1 and 559.115.8, courts “have the power to grant probation to an offender anytime up to one hundred twenty days after such offender has been delivered to the department of corrections but not thereafter.”

The Court appreciates your continued efforts to prevent the spread of COVID19 in your respective jurisdictions.

Sincerely, GEORGE W. DRAPER III Chief Justice

Supreme Court of Missouri Extends Precautionary Measures to Combat COVID-19

In response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the Supreme Court of Missouri today extended through Friday, May 1 its statewide suspension of most in-person proceedings, subject to certain listed exceptions for urgent matters required under the constitution or state law or otherwise necessary to protect health or safety.

Despite the restrictions, the state’s courts remain open to conduct necessary business, though access to court buildings – including the Supreme Court Building – has been limited to help prevent the spread of the disease. The Court’s order does not affect a court’s ability to consider or rule on matters and does not affect required deadlines through the state’s electronic filing system.

The Court’s order authorizes local courts to determine how best to conduct the excepted proceedings and other necessary court business. The Missouri Courts COVID-19 alert page – https://www.courts.mo.gov/pandemic/, launched March 13 – links to the various orders and notices issued by the Court, the three districts of the Missouri Court of Appeals, each of the state’s 115 circuit courts and a growing number of the state’s stand-alone municipal divisions. This web page is updated throughout each day as new information become available. Individuals with questions about the status of particular cases should check Case.net, sign up for alerts through Case.net’s Track This Case tool, ask their attorney or contact the local clerk’s office.

As information about and best practices for dealing with COVID-19 continue to evolve, the Court will continue to discuss how best to balance the health and safety of the public, judges and court staff statewide with the judicial branch’s responsibility to uphold the constitutional rights of litigants seeking redress and other core constitutional functions.

Missouri Supreme Court Responds to the Coronavirus Disease Pandemic

​​On March 13, 2020, national and state emergencies were declared following the classification of COVID-19 as a pandemic.  In response, the Supreme Court of Missouri announces the implementation of the following precautionary measures to combat the spread of the disease to the public and the employees of the Missouri judiciary.

The courts of the State of Missouri shall remain open.  Nevertheless, pursuant to this Court’s constitutional authority to supervise the administration of the state judicial system, see Mo. Const. art. V, §§ 4.1, 8, the Supreme Court of Missouri hereby suspends all in-person proceedings in all appellate and circuit courts – including all associate, family, juvenile, municipal, and probate divisions.  The suspension will last from Tuesday, March 17, 2020, through Friday, April 3, 2020, and may be extended by order of this Court as circumstances may warrant.

The suspension of in-person proceedings is subject to the following exceptions:

Proceedings necessary to protect the constitutional rights of criminal defendants and juveniles;
Proceedings in which civil or criminal jury trials are already in progress as of March 16, 2020;
Proceedings pursuant to chapter 455 pertaining to orders of protection;
Proceedings related to emergency child custody orders;
Proceedings related to petitions for temporary restraining orders or other forms of temporary injunctive relief;
Proceedings related to emergency mental health orders;
Proceedings pursuant to Chapter 475 for emergency guardianship or conservatorship;
Proceedings directly related to the COVID-19 public health emergency;
Oral arguments regarding time-sensitive matters; and
Other exceptions approved by the Chief Justice of this Court.

The presiding judge of each circuit court and the chief judges of each appellate court are authorized to determine the manner in which the listed in-person exceptions are to be conducted.  Any proceedings conducted in-person shall be limited to the attorneys, parties, witnesses, security officers, and other individuals necessary to the proceedings as determined by the judge presiding over the proceedings.  The judge presiding over such proceedings has the discretion to exercise his or her discretion in excusing jurors or other individuals that cannot or should not appear as a result of risks associated with COVID-19.

All judges and court clerks are encouraged to utilize all available technologies – including e-mail, teleconferencing, and video conferencing – to further limit in-person courtroom appearances.  Any local, criminal, or civil rules that would impede a court clerk or judge’s ability to utilize such technologies are hereby suspended until April 3, 2020, and may be extended by order of this Court as circumstances may warrant.

This order does not affect a court’s ability to consider or rule on any matter that does not require an in-person court proceeding.  Likewise, this order does not affect any required filing deadlines through Missouri’s e-filing system.  During the suspension, each circuit and appellate court should consider adopting measures for ensuring timely filing by pro se litigants that lack access to Missouri’s e-filing system.

Despite the suspension of in-person court proceedings, Missouri courts still must continue to carry out the core, constitutional functions of the Missouri judiciary as prescribed by law and continue to uphold the constitutional rights of litigants seeking redress in any Missouri court. Each courthouse should work with local law enforcement and county agencies to ensure that, to the extent possible, courthouses remain accessible to carry out essential constitutional functions and time-sensitive proceedings.  

If it becomes necessary to close any courthouse during the suspension period, the courthouse shall develop procedures for ensuring the court remains accessible by telephone and e-mail to the extent possible during regular business hours.  The Supreme Court of Missouri should be notified immediately of the closing of any courthouse, and notice of such closings should be disseminated to the local media and posted on the courthouse doors.

Furthermore, for the health and safety of its employees, each court is instructed to post an order to the courthouse doors prohibiting access to the premises for individuals that have been exposed to or are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.  The posting should list necessary contact information for individuals not authorized to enter the premises to have remote access to the administration of justice.  Attached to this order is a recommended order for posting at each court.  The order should contain the same substantive information but should be modified to include local contact information.  

Additionally, any non-essential travel by judicial employees for work-related functions is hereby suspended.  This includes travel for purposes of participating in Supreme Court committee meetings.  If possible, such meetings should be conducted by teleconferencing or rescheduled to a later date.

This order is intended to be interpreted broadly for protection of the public from the risks associated with COVID-19.  

Sheriffs Carry the Concerns of their Citizens to the Capitol

Fifty-some sheriffs visited the state capitol March 12 to remind lawmakers that the challenges facing the sheriffs are real, that something needs to be done and that they need legislators’ help to make the needed changes.

​​Lewis County Sheriff David Parrish, the president of the Missouri Sheriffs’ Association, told the group of legislators and media representatives gathered in the House of Representatives Lounge that 2019 may go down in history as one of the worst years for sheriffs who are attempting to enforce the rule of law and protect the local law-abiding tax payers they serve.

“Sheriffs have been concerned many years – 2019 was just the culmination that the justice system has become too offender-centered. Some well-intentioned people have become too focused on those committing the crimes while not necessarily focusing on the neighborhoods they are affecting and the victims the sheriffs are committed to fighting for,” he said.

Sheriff Parrish summarized some of the challenges they’re facing:

▪ In March, 2019, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that board bills should not be considered court costs – even though that had been the practice for 100 years.

▪ The Missouri Bond Reform, which was ordered December 2018 and became effective July 1, 2019, prohibits judges from keeping defendants in jail if they can’t afford bail. Instead, those defendants, many of whom are “career criminals,” are to be released on their own signature with only a ticket, which, according to sheriffs, allows them to continue to victimize their communities.

▪ State statute requires sheriffs to accept prisoners or face a misdemeanor, and the state is to reimburse counties $22.58 per day for holding those prisoners. However, Missouri is falling further and further behind in paying the jail per diems. As of December 2019, the state owed counties – and ultimately county taxpayers – an estimated $33.4 million.

▪ Sheriffs are at odds with the Missouri Department of Corrections because those sheriffs believe once an offender is sentenced to prison, he or she should not on Day 1 be considered for conditional early release. In many cases, inmates are serving one to three months per year sentenced.

Sheriff Parrish said they hear too often “’What is wrong with society?’ and ‘Why doesn’t society do more for the career criminal?’ We say they can’t afford court costs, we say they can’t afford the board bill, we say they can’t be in jail very long instead of just reminding ourselves that there’s a very simple way – a very simple way – to not have to do those things. Don’t violate the law. I know our constituents believe that if someone does violate the law, we should be firm and fair but also hold them accountable.”

Cape Girardeau County Sheriff Ruth Ann Dickerson went into more detail about jail per diems.

“We, as sheriffs, hear from our citizens every day about how we are handling our budgets – their tax dollars,” she said, reminding those present that their citizens, their constituents, their voters were the same citizens, constituents and voters that the legislators represent. “And they want to know how you are handling their tax dollars. When the state does not pay its bills, it affects not only the sheriffs but the citizens in the lost revenues to our communities.”

Sheriff Dickerson explained that although the rate has fluctuated over the years, since 1976, the state, under Missouri Statute 221.105 has paid per diem for all inmates housed in county jails.

“The state acknowledges that their daily cost for handling inmates is $65 a day. The state allows its own employees a per diem for meals of $34 a day. But the per diem of inmates is just $22.58. The state is also using local jails to hold parole offenders. It used to be that if someone violated their parole, they immediately went back to the Department of Corrections. Today those offenders are staying in the county jails waiting on hearings, waiting on the steps the Department of Corrections will take many times to be released back into the community without any further sentencing or time.”

Sheriff Dickerson also said 1996 was the last time the Missouri legislature and the governor’s office officially recognized that public safety is a partnership between the local, county and state government. Since that time, funding has been directed at other programs, causing the arrearage to grow. She produced a study conducted in 2010 by the National Association of Counties refuting DOC statements that Missouri is the only state that charges room and board. Instead, although different formulas are used, every state pays per diem. She also said a 2015 program evaluation of county per diem payments completed by the DOC showed they had studied the issue, although its officials claimed otherwise.

“The state funding must be appropriated to pay the bills owed by the state and the per diem should be the responsibility of the state,” she said.

Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott spoke next, discussing concerns about the direction taken by the DOC and the Division of Probation and Parole.

“Probation issues are a continued failure from the top of this organization. Our local P&P officers’ hands are being tied by not being able to recommend revocation. I talked to our circuit judge about three hours ago. He told me he sees offenders with 15 to 20 violations with no recommendation for revocation from Probation and Parole. We have proof that offenders are going to the P&P office, taking urine tests, showing positive for methamphetamine, then they simply walk out the door, get into a vehicle and drive off. This is a public safety issue. This puts Missouri’s citizens’ lives in danger every day,” he said, reiterating that those scenarios were not the fault of the P&P officer but rather from leadership in the DOC.

Sheriff Arnott also criticized the practice of rewarding parolees with gift cards for showing up on time at appointments.

“This is ridiculous! Do you know what the reward is? Not being locked up in jail and not going to prison. This philosophy has to change. If we want to hand out gift cards, let’s give them to Missourians who have been victimized – not criminals. We must remember that our entire justice system is based around taking care of victims. We want our message to be clear. Missouri’s sheriffs will continue to be vigilant and tough on crime but legislators, we need your assistance to change the philosophy of this department,” he said.

Johnson County Sheriff Scott Munsterman addressed the group next, talking about bond reform.

“In the reform, they labeled drugs and drug offenders as ‘non-violent crime.’ I disagree. Drug offenders are not only a danger to themselves, they are also a danger to the communities we represent. During investigations of crimes in our communities, we’re dealing with drug offenders every day and see that they’re tied in with burglaries, car larcenies, and simple property crimes. Drug offenders are utilizing citizens’ assets to help supplement their addiction,” he said, adding that although they arrest the offenders, reforms require sheriffs to simply issue a summons to appear in court and then release them back into the community where they continue to reoffend.

And individuals are not following through and showing up in court. Sheriff Munsterman said since the new rules went into effect, the failure to appear rate in Johnson County has increased 28 percent. In neighboring Cass County, that number jumped 48 percent.

He closed by sharing a statement from a friend that “non-violent” does not mean “non-dangerous,” stressing that those who were breaking into cars and homes to steal and supplement their drug addictions were dangerous and needed to be behind bars.

“To sum up, we are here to protect the local law-abiding tax payer,” Sheriff Parrish said, adding that sheriffs recognize and respect those who are assisting offenders in becoming better citizens. “But the pendulum has swung too far. It’s very simple to not have to follow any guidelines. Follow the law.”
 
By Nancy Zoellner

Missouri Courts Suspend Jury Trials, Dockets in Response to Virus

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​

Missouri Sheriffs Rally at the State Capitol in Jefferson City

Some 50 sheriffs stood shoulder-to-shoulder in Missouri’s capitol on Wednesday, saying the new rules from the Missouri Supreme Court must change – and that they needed lawmakers’ help in accomplishing that.

The sheriffs shared how the new rules favor criminals instead of Missouri’s law-abiding citizens and reminded lawmakers that the justice system was based on taking care of victims.

Sheriffs also discussed how the state has fallen behind in payment of jail per diems – to the tune of $33.4 million as of December 2019.