FLA. SUPREME CT. LIFTS COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS FOR IN-PERSON COURT APPEARANCES
Updated: Jun 26, 2021
Chief Justice Charles T. Canady of the Florida Supreme Court issued an order on June 4, 2021, allowing Florida’s courts to lift many of the Covid-19 safety restrictions for in-court proceedings (the “Order”). This includes requirements for mask wearing and social distancing. See Florida Supreme Court Administrative Order No. AOSC21-17.
Florida’s Supreme Court initially extended Florida’s state of emergency to the courts and adopted many of Florida’s Covid-19 restrictions in March of 2020. This was to mitigate the effects of the public health emergency upon the judicial branch and its participants, and while allowing Florida’s courts to operate to the fullest extent consistent with public safety.
In the Order, Chief Justice Canady explained that he was lifting these requirements because of increased vaccination rates, improved health measurements, updated health guidelines from the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), the availability of Covid-19 vaccines to all persons in Florida over the age of 12, and the full vaccination of almost half of Florida’s residents.
Florida’s courts are not lifting all of the Covid-19 restrictions or going back to “normal” as of the issuance of the Order. In short, “Given these developments, the judicial branch can now transition to operations where in-person contact is more broadly authorized.” The new health and safety protocols and emergency operational measures will take effect on June 31, 2021.
The Order states that the wearing of face masks and physical distancing is no longer required during in-person court proceedings. Not unless otherwise required by federal, state, or local laws or regulations. Participants, however, are allowed to wear a face mask. Upon request, the Court must provide a face mask. Also, participants may request to be physically distanced, which the courts will consider in terms of the circumstances of the case.
In Civil Cases, this does not mean the end of remote proceedings. The courts are still focused on facilitating the expeditious processing of cases. After all, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the courts have a huge backlog of cases. This is especially true of evictions actions, where the backlog will continue to mount and further inundate the courts once there is no longer an eviction moratorium.
Different rules, however, have been and may be established by the courts for criminal, family, and other proceedings. For example, complex proceedings.
Under the Order, “trial court proceedings may be conducted remotely or in person, except that the proceeding must be conducted in person if the … judge determines that [proceeding remotely] is inconsistent with the United States or Florida Constitutions, a Statute, or a rule of court, a court order, or an opinion that has not been suspended by administrative order.”
In this context, “Chief judges shall have the discretion to determine how to best utilize available trial court resources and facility space to conduct in-person proceedings,” a determination that will consider the following “priority cases,” listed from highest to lowest:
“a. Essential proceedings as previously identified in Section III.D.(1) of Fla. Admin. Order No. AOSC20-23, Amendment 13.
b. Circuit and county criminal trials with an in-custody defendant.
c. Circuit trials for juveniles being tried as an adult.
d. Juvenile delinquency trials.
e. Circuit and county criminal trials with an out-of-custody defendant.
f. Termination of parental rights trials.
g. Circuit civil jury trials.
h. County civil jury trials.
i. All other trial court proceedings.”
Florida’s courts have established committees to determine the best way to proceed. The Chief Judges of the various Circuits in Florida have been given discretion as to how to implement the new order. The process is ongoing and evolving.
In terms of landlord and tenant cases, a primary consideration will probably be whether or not the Moratorium is extended beyond June 30, 2021. Assuming no other moratorium takes its place. For the foreseeable future, it seems that most streamlined (or non-complex) eviction cases will continue to be mostly conducted remotely.
Ultimately, these are difficult and confusing times for landlords and tenants. The status and future of evictions has been in a state of uncertainty for well over a year. If you have questions or require legal assistance, you can contact the Bress Law Firm, PLLC. Our information is below. If you cannot afford an attorney, you can seek the assistance of a local legal aid agency, to see if you qualify for assistance. Either way, an attorney will help you protect your rights and defend your interests in these confusing times.
To read the Order, click on the following link: https://thirdcircuitfl.org/wp-content/uploads/AOSC21-17.pdf.
To read more about the state of Florida’s judiciary and return to normalcy, in the Florida Bar News you can read “Canady Lays Out Path for Court’s Return to Normalcy” by Gary Blankenship, published June 14, 2021. The article contains Chief Justice Canady’s State of the Judiciary address on June 11, 2021, during the Florida Bar Convention’s General Assembly. Link:
CURRENT AS OF June 15, 2021.
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