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How Courts Are Handling COVID-19

Interior of an empty courtroom with gavel and sounding block on the desk.
By Joseph Fawbush, Esq. on March 18, 2020 1:54 PM

An increasing number of courts throughout the country are shutting down, barring public access and postponing trials. Those that haven't shuttered completely are generally implementing strict protocols to keep people safe.

The United States is keeping track of the various federal court orders on us.courts.gov. A few examples include:

  • In the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, which includes Chicago, proceedings are being postponed, with filing deadlines being extended accordingly.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court has suspended oral argument and justices will work from home. Filing deadlines have not been extended.
  • The Ninth Circuit, as of March 17, has closed to the public, and oral arguments are being determined on a case-by-case basis, in some cases holding argument via telephone or video. Filing deadlines will be extended “as needed."

These are, of course, just a limited example of the various approaches federal courts are using. It is best to check on the website of your local court for the latest information. This is a rapidly developing situation with many unresolved questions.

Just the Beginning

Unfortunately, attempts to limit the COVID-19 pandemic is just the beginning of this unprecedented shuttering of the nation's access to the courts. Myriad questions exist about how cases will develop and the impact on people in both civil and criminal courts.

While jurisdictions currently vary in their approach, there is little a criminal defendant awaiting trial can do, for example. Right now, the nation's courts are weighing constitutional rights with the need for public safety. People without access to a jury trial are simply going to have to wait.

The same is true of many civil actions. For example, Hamilton County courts, which include Cincinnatti, are postponing evictions, small claims and traffic cases. However, they are proceeding with criminal matters at the discretion of the presiding judge.

What Can You Do?

Because procedures will vary by jurisdiction, it is important to check your local court's website for the latest information. Some jurisdictions are asking that attorneys contact the judge's chamber for specific protocols. You may be able to continue representation if you have urgent matters at the court but be prepared to show identification. Some courts may also check your temperature upon arrival.

Various courts have also issued guidance on what constitutes an urgent matter.

We'll continue to monitor as the situation develops. For now, however, the best action is to communicate with the court to ensure you are following the appropriate protocols in place.

Related Resources

COVID-19 Information and Resources for Legal Professionals (FindLaw's Practice Management)

In a Rare Move, Supreme Court Postpones Oral Arguments (FindLaw's U.S. Supreme Court)

Court Orders and Updates During COVID-19 Pandemic (uscourts.gov)

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