FLORIDA KEYS, March 19, 2020 – Due to the threat of the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the three Monroe County courthouses in Key West, Marathon and Plantation Key are now closed to the general public “with the exception of those persons needing to conduct mission-critical proceedings” as well as “persons needing to conduct business with the Clerk of the Court and the State Attorney’s Office at the Plantation Key Government Center.”
Monroe County Chief Judge Mark Jones issued the directive March 18 following direction from the Florida Supreme Court. The directive remains in effect through April 17.
Entry to court facilities is limited to “attorneys, litigants, witnesses and essential personnel necessary to conduct the critical mission of the court.” Anyone who has exhibited symptoms of COVID-19, who has traveled internationally or who has been in contact with another person suffering from the effects of COVID-19 is prohibited from entering any court facility.
No inmate housed in any Keys jail facility is to be transported to any court facility “absent a written order” from Judge Jones.
Where available, “Technological means of communication such as telephone, conference call or videoconference should be used to minimize face-to-face contact among judges, attorneys and litigants.”
For incarcerated inmates, first appearances and arraignments will continue through videoconferencing from the jails. All arraignment dates for out-of-custody defendants will be rescheduled. Judge Jones’ full administrative order is attached.
Previously, Florida Supreme Court Chief Judge Charles Canady ordered that state courts statewide, including in Monroe County, suspend some proceedings through Friday, March 27, due to the COVID-19 virus epidemic.
“All grand jury proceedings, jury selection proceedings, and criminal and civil jury trials are suspended,” he said in emergency administrative order issued March 13.
In that order, Canady said these measures are needed because “a public health emergency exists in the state courts. The emergency requires social distancing to reduce person-to-person transmission of the COVID-19 virus.”
“However, a proceeding that has been commenced may proceed to completion if the presiding judge, with approval of the chief judge [in Monroe, Judge Jones], determines that completion of the proceeding without delay is required by the interests of justice. In addition, the requirement of the double jeopardy clause must be considered in criminal proceedings.”
In addition, “the suspension of time limits under the speedy trial procedure restores additional days equal to the number stated herein.”
On March 9, Governor Ron DeSantis issued a statewide State of Emergency, triggering several emergency measures. On March 13, Monroe County Mayor Heather Carruthers declared a countywide State of Emergency, prohibiting gatherings of 50 people or more on county-owned property. The county State of Emergency lasts until March 22 but will be re-examined on a week-to-week basis.
Key West Mayor Teri Johnston has declared a local state of emergency for that city and Marathon Mayor Steven Cook declared one for the Middle Keys city, triggering some protective measures.
As of this writing, there have been no publicly documented cases of COVID-19 in Monroe County.