As a precaution against the evolving COVID-19 health emergency, the Florida Supreme Court provided additional direction to Florida courts – and to “parties” and court “participants” – in a March 24, 2020 administrative order (AOSC20-17). Principally, the new Order extends to April 17, 2020, the suspensions, delayed deadlines, and restrictions of prior orders (AOSC20-13, AOSC20-15, and AOSC20-16). The Order cautions that further restrictions may be forthcoming.
The Order recognizes the “pandemic continues to have a massive effect upon the operations of the State Courts System and the lives of all Floridians.” As with prior orders, the Court’s purpose is “to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on the courts” by creating the social space needed to contain the COVID-19 virus. Importantly, the Order gives substantial discretion to the chief judge of each of Florida’s twenty judicial circuits; as such, for any particular proceeding, counsel and parties should review local administrative orders for guidance.
In broad terms, the Order advises that “Judges who can conduct court business from a remote location are strongly encouraged to do so.” Telephonic hearings, therefore, will likely be the norm for non-evidentiary hearings. For evidentiary hearings, the chief judges may direct presiding judges to conduct video hearings, following the Court’s guidance that “chief judges are directed to take all possible steps to facilitate conducting proceedings with the use of technology.” To this end, “[a]ll rules of procedure, court orders, and opinions applicable to court proceedings that limit or prohibit the use of communication equipment for the conducting of proceedings by remote electronic means are suspended.” Notaries, for example, may now administer oaths through audio-video communication.
In specific terms, the Court suspends until April 17, 2020 (extending the suspension of prior Orders) the following:
– grand jury proceedings
– jury selection
– civil and criminal trials
– writs of possession under Rule 1.580
Proceedings already commenced may continue if required by the interests of justice, as determined by the chief judge and presiding judge.
For criminal proceedings, the Order suspends all time periods for the “speedy trial procedure” through April 20, 2020. The Order provides additional directives related to the incarceration and transportation of criminal defendants.
Finally, the order does not suspend “essential proceedings” or “critical proceedings” related to the response to the COVID-19 health emergency crisis. The unaffected proceedings, however, are limited to those involving personal liberty, dependency, and related constitutional rights.
For more information, please find a copy of the full Order in the following link: https://www.floridasupremecourt.org/content/download/632431/7186205/AOSC20-17.pdf