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FLORIDA KEYS, May 22, 2020 – Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady issued an order late on May 21 creating a new pilot program for civil jury trials to be held using remote technology. It will explore ways to let jury trials begin again using health-related distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.
All jury trials in Florida have been halted, and a backlog has developed since March 13. This occurred because of the possibility of spreading coronavirus in the close quarters used in standard jury procedures
Under the pilot program, the Supreme Court’s statewide COVID-19 Workgroup will develop requirements and select up to five Florida trial circuits (Monroe County is the 16th Circuit) to participate in the pilot program. At this point, trials will only be civil, non-criminal cases and all parties must consent to participate in the pilot.
To be determined is which five circuits will be selected, how jurors would serve electronically and if potential jurors that do not have the electronic capability would be excused.
“Details will be worked out by the COVID-19 Workgroup as they work with circuits that eventually submit plans,” the court said in response to these questions.
Judge Canady also amended an earlier order called SCAO20-23 that provides comprehensive emergency procedures for use in courts in the pandemic. The amendments incorporate the new Phase 2 safety procedures contained in the COVID-19 Workgroup report.
Phase 2 is the time when limited in-person contact will be authorized in courts and court proceedings, but protective measures still will be required. It will be followed by Phase 3, when in-person contact is more broadly authorized, and Phase 4, when coronavirus no longer presents a significant risk.
Transition to Phase 2 in the Florida state courts will occur when each trial and appeals court has no COVID-19 cases in the courthouse within 14 days or the use of deep cleaning if such cases have occurred; local and state restrictive orders permit the activity; the community shows at least 14 days of improvements in case reporting; adequate testing programs are in place; and other building occupants and justice system partners have been consulted.
Florida’s state courts currently are in Phase 1, the time when the most restrictive limits are placed on in-person contact to avoid possible coronavirus infections.