Group of judges, lawyers to decide how to reopen Florida courts

Most in-person court proceedings were suspended last month due to the pandemic. Florida’s Chief Justice assembled a work group to determine how to safely get things moving again.
The Florida Supreme Court building in Tallahassee.
The Florida Supreme Court building in Tallahassee. [ Times (2019) ]
Published April 21, 2020|Updated April 22, 2020

When and how will Florida’s court system get moving again? A newly assembled work group of judges, lawyers and court clerks will have to decide.

Florida’s Chief Justice Charles Canady announced the 17-member group’s creation Tuesday in an order that directed them to come up with a plan for an eventual return to normal court operations in the months ahead as the threat from the coronavirus pandemic evolves.

Most in-person court proceedings came to a halt statewide last month amid efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19. The chief justice ordered all jury trials and grand jury proceedings to be postponed and speedy trial rules suspended. Some court hearings have continued via telephone and video conference. Only emergency matters and critical proceedings have been permitted to be conducted in person.

The Chief Justice’s order Tuesday identifies four phases for the group to study. The first, the present phase, is when in-person court contact is rare. The next phase is when limited in-person contact may be permitted with some precautions. The third is when in-person contact becomes more broadly authorized and precautions are relaxed. The final phase is when the coronavirus is no longer a significant threat.

The group’s tasks include assessing all court matters that have been delayed by the pandemic and proposing ways of resolving them with remote technology. They will also propose guidance for protective measures to allow judges, court personnel and the public to return safely to court facilities. They will make recommendations about which in-person proceedings can resume, identify metrics to monitor case backlogs, figure out which proceedings should continue to be held remotely, and identify issues to be addressed in planning for future pandemics.

The group will send recommendations to the Florida Supreme Court as they develop rather than in a final report. They will meet through June 30, with extensions possible after that.

Orange-Osceola Circuit Judge Lisa Taylor Munyon will chair the group. The other members are:

Philip G. Archer, 18th judicial circuit state attorney

Kimberly C. Bonner, chief judge of the 12th judicial circuit

Hope Tieman Bristol, 17th judicial circuit judge

Stacy M. Butterfield, Polk County Clerk of Court

Jay Cohen, Fort Lauderdale attorney

Daniel DiGiacomo, marshal for the 4th District Court of Appeal

Howard L. Dimmig, II, Polk County Public Defender

Kevin Emas, chief judge of the 3rd District Court of Appeal

Gary A. Hagan, court technology officer for the 14th judicial circuit

Charles Hydovitz, third judicial circuit court administrator

Christopher Kelly, Volusia County judge

Don H. Lester, fourth judicial circuit judge

Janeice T. Martin, Collier County judge

Michael T. McHugh, chief judge of the 20th judicial circuit

Bertila Soto, chief judge of the 11th judicial circuit

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John A. Tomasino, clerk of the Florida Supreme Court

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