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Chief Justice Lorie Gildea (Staff file photo: Kevin Featherly)
Chief Justice Lorie Gildea (Staff file photo: Kevin Featherly)

Chief justice: Virus concern requires limits on courthouse access

The Minnesota courts are under a peacetime emergency order issued this afternoon (March 20) by Chief Justice Lori Gildea. The courts have remained open since Gov. Tim Walz’s emergency declaration on March 13, but new restrictions and changes are laid out in the chief’s order, available here. It is designed to allow for maximum “social distancing” and isolation and still provide due process.

It follows a March 19 letter to legislative leadership from the chief justice asking the Legislature to enact laws that would toll deadlines as necessary to ensure that rights are protected. That request is aimed at speedy-trial demands and, if enacted, would toll the speedy-trial clock during the emergency. It is also aimed at tolling a range of statutes of limitation and deadlines requesting hearings, appeals or other relief.

The order provides for remote proceedings whenever possible and limited access to courtrooms and other courthouse facilities. It suspends some court activities until April 22 or further order of the court. It is a more comprehensive order than previously issued by the court.

Appellate courts

Appeals will proceed at the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court. The court may allow hearings to proceed remotely and may suspend oral argument. Those courts also may grant reasonable extensions of deadlines.

Supreme Court Commitment Appeal Panel hearings will proceed but may be conducted by interactive television.

The director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility is authorized to use remote technology or other distancing measures to the extent feasible and as needed for any activity or proceeding. Referees are authorized to conduct hearings remotely, if necessary and appropriate to do so. Additionally, the director may suspend the scheduling of panel hearings through April 22, or until further order of the court.

District Court

Jury and court trials that are underway will continue unless there is a manifest necessity to suspend the trial based on the individual health and safety circumstances of any case participant. No new jury trials will commence until April 22 or until further order of the court.

Similarly, a grand jury that has empaneled will continue until concluded but no new grand juries will commence until April 22 or further court order.

In adult criminal court where the defendant is in custody, bail review;  Rule 8 hearings; omnibus hearings that do not require live testimony; plea hearings; sentencing hearings; and probation revocation hearings if any necessary testimony can be provided remotely, shall be held in a courtroom. Remote appearances are allowed in those matters. All other proceedings are suspended until April 22 or further court order.

Public defense attorneys have called for the delay of all trials to protect jurors and defendants. Chief State Public Defender Bill Ward and Ramsey County Chief Public Defender Jim Fleming argued that calling in jurors during a global pandemic put everyone’s health at risk and threatened to prevent their clients from receiving a fair trial, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.

In juvenile delinquency proceedings where the defendant is in custody, detention review; omnibus hearings that do not require live testimony; plea hearings; certification hearings; extended juvenile jurisdiction hearings; disposition hearings; and probation revocation hearings if any necessary testimony can be provided remotely, will be held in a courtroom. Attorneys and defendants may appear remotely. All other proceedings are suspended unless they can be conducted remotely.

Child-protection hearings will be held in in the courtroom for emergency protective care for children in placement. Attendance in the courtroom shall be limited to parties and parent-participants, and their attorneys. All other proceedings in juvenile-protection matters can be held remotely or will be conducted based per the discretion of the presiding judge.

Other cases

Hearings may be held in a courtroom on an emergency basis in housing/eviction matters when there is a showing of individual or public health or safety at risk; civil commitment; emergency change-of-custody requests; guardianship; and orders for protection. In all other housing/eviction matters, the presiding judge is authorized to conduct the proceeding remotely or based on the parties’ written submissions.

Hearings shall be conducted in the courtroom for any case type in which the request for relief presents an immediate liberty concern, or when public or personal safety concerns are paramount.

Other access

Filings will continue electronically, by mail, or as directed by court administration. Parties may use drop boxes if one is available. Otherwise, the public will not have access to the court facility for filing.

Access to the court will be limited to the parties and court staff, unless otherwise ordered by the court. The media will have access to courtrooms but otherwise do not have access to judicial branch facilities and services, including public access terminals. Members of the media must arrange their attendance 24 hours in advance.

“It is the intention of this paragraph that court administration may limit the number of persons in attendance at hearings, including the number of media representatives, in a manner that is consistent with guidelines issued by public health officials for public gatherings,” the chief justice stated.

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