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Judiciary Preparedness for Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Note: This page was last updated at 5 p.m. on April 7, 2020.

Federal courts are individually coordinating with state and local health officials to obtain local information about the coronavirus (COVID-19), and some have issued orders relating to court business, operating status, and public and employee safety.

The Judiciary will also provide a regular updates on this page with the latest information.

April 7, 2020 Update

The District of Southern Florida, where Miami-Dade leads the state in COVID-19 infections at roughly 5,000 confirmed cases, has postponed all scheduled jury trials until July 6 and cautioned there may be “future continuances as necessary and appropriate” before the crisis abates.

Chief Judge K. Michael Moore said in an April 3 order that while some proceedings will go forward, “judges are strongly encouraged to conduct proceedings by telephone or video conference where practicable.” All grand jury sessions in the district were also continued until July 6. The district includes courts in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Fort Pierce, and Key West.

Statewide, Florida had more than 14,500 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of April 7, according to the state’s health department.

The Middle District of Alabama issued an April 5 order supporting teleconferencing and video conferencing of court proceedings that provide access for the public and the media. The order provides links and web addresses for people who want to listen or observe, along with a reminder “of prohibitions regarding photographing, recording, and broadcasting of court proceedings.”

April 6, 2020 Update

Citing the continuing threat from the coronavirus COVID-19, the Southern District of Ohio has postponed all civil and criminal trials scheduled to start on or before June 1, extending an order that otherwise would have expired in early April.

The new order, which applies to both jury and non-jury trials, postponed all affected proceedings for 60 days. Many procedural hearings will continue to be heard by videoconference or teleconference. 

April 1, 2020 Update

More than a dozen federal courts issued orders authorizing video and teleconferencing technology for preliminary criminal and civil hearings. Broader use of such technology was authorized by the recently passed CARES Act. 

The Eastern District of Virginia closed its Newport News courthouse indefinitely, ordering that it undergo a deep cleaning and be kept in reserve as a “judicial emergency center.”

The courthouse will be “sanitized and preserved for safe use, in order to serve as a ‘last resort’ location for court proceedings,” the order said. It added that the courthouse would be used during the crisis “if, and only if, all other courthouses (Alexandria, Norfolk, and Richmond) are rendered unusable at the same time.”

March 31, 2020 Update

Federal courts across the country have begun issuing orders to allow teleconferencing and videoconferencing of certain criminal proceedings after the Judicial Conference and Congress recently authorized their use for the duration of the COVID-19 public health crisis in the United States.

Typical of the orders by chief judges is the one from the District of New Hampshire that lists the proceedings where electronic methods will be used, including detention hearings, arraignments, supervised release revocation hearings, and misdemeanor pleas and sentencings. The order stipulates that the defendant must consent to video or telephone conferencing in lieu of a courtroom appearance.

In order to address health and safety concerns in federal courthouses and courtrooms, the Judicial Conference approved the temporary use of video and teleconferencing for certain criminal proceedings and teleconferencing of civil proceedings during the COVID-19 national emergency. Last week, Congress approved enabling legislation as part of the $2 trillion economic rescue package.

The legislation provides that the authorization of video and telephone conferencing will end 30 days after the date on which the national emergency ends or the date when the Judicial Conference finds that the federal courts are no longer materially affected, whichever is earlier.

March 30, 2020 Update

Citing Illinois’ stay-at-home order and the recent passage of legislation enabling electronic court procedures, the chief judge of the Southern District of Illinois authorized the use of teleconferencing and videoconferencing for several types of criminal procedures. Audio and visual feeds of the proceedings will be available to the press and the public “to the extent practicable,” wrote Chief Judge Nancy J. Rosenstengel in her March 30 order. The temporary lifting of restrictions on electronic court proceedings was included in the $2 trillion economic relief package passed by Congress last week.

The U.S. District Court for Eastern Michigan said in a news release that two court security officers at the Detroit-based courthouse have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Ten others have exhibited symptoms and four have been hospitalized. The officers were in the building between March 12 and March 21. The building was closed on March 24 for disinfecting and the entire court staff was sent home. The courthouse remains closed indefinitely and most employees are working remotely.

Several federal employees who work in the Martin Luther King and Frank R. Lautenberg U.S. Courthouses in Newark, New Jersey, also have tested positive for COVID-19. Chief Judge Freda L. Wolfson ordered the closing of the courthouses until April 6. The chief judge’s March 26 order did not affect two courthouses in Trenton and Camden. Earlier, all criminal and civil trials in the District Court of New Jersey were postponed until May.

March 27, 2020 Update  

As stay-at-home orders by local governments began to take hold in central Florida, the Middle District of Florida announced a halt to all jury trials scheduled to begin before June 30. The U.S. courthouse in Orlando remained open, subject to limitations, but judges were “strongly encouraged” to conduct any urgent court proceedings by telephone or videoconference.

In the Southern District of Ohio, Chief Judge Algenon L. Marbley issued an order noting that the limits the court has placed on proceedings during the pandemic were becoming a financial hardship for attorneys appointed by the court to represent indigent criminal defendants. The March 25 order allows the defense attorneys to file interim vouchers for payment rather than waiting until the disposition of their cases as they normally do.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, meanwhile, suspended mail operations and extended deadlines for 30 days for defendants representing themselves in various criminal matters.

March 26, 2020 Update

Warning that many judges and court security officers are at high risk from coronavirus (COVID-19) because of their ages, the District of Maine ordered that procedural hearings in criminal cases be held by teleconference.

“Telephonic hearings substantially reduce the threat of exposing those who participate in hearings to COVID-19,” said a March 25 order signed by Chief Judge Jon D. Levy. Victims and media will be given access to the telephone proceedings, which “will also be open to members of the public if determined to be reasonably possible,” the order said.

The Western District of Pennsylvania directed all detention facilities to screen detainees for potential coronavirus symptoms before transporting them to the federal court for any in-person hearings required by law. Detainees who fail any of several health criteria are to be kept at the facility, and the court is to be notified, the order said.

The Northern District of California, where a region-wide “shelter in place” order has been issued, has consolidated all in-person court proceedings in the district’s San Francisco courthouse. “The Oakland, San Jose, and Eureka/McKinleyville Courthouses will be closed entirely to the public” until April 7, the order said.

March 25, 2020 Update

The federal courthouse in Pocatello, Idaho, was ordered closed for two weeks, after “a person working in the courthouse tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus after recent travel.” The individual is in self-quarantine.

The Northern District of Ohio is closing five federal courthouses until May 1. All jury trials are postponed, and “initial appearances, arraignments, and detention hearings will proceed and will be conducted by telephone or videoconference where practicable.”

The Western District of Virginia postponed all in-person hearings until May 1, and instructed judges to conduct criminal, civil, and bankruptcy proceedings by video or teleconferencing.

A growing number of bankruptcy courts have reduced in-person meetings by postponing hearings in which bankruptcy filers face their creditors. Other courts, including the District of Connecticut, are permitting parties to file electronic signatures to ease the finalization of documents.

March 24, 2020 Update

West Virginia

Citing the lack of adequate testing available to know the full extent of the spread of COVID-19, the chief judge for the Southern District of West Virginia has ordered the closing of all courthouses in the district and a postponement of most civil and criminal proceedings.

West Virginia was the one of the last states to report confirmed cases of the respiratory disease, and its courts are now experiencing the same types of threats as those in other states.  Chief Judge Thomas E. Johnston wrote in a March 23 order, “There is understandable concern that inadequate testing available at this time to monitor the transmission of the disease makes it likely that the disease is substantially more widespread than it appears. Moreover, West Virginia has a relatively high elderly population and greater incidence of other medical conditions that can make individuals more vulnerable to the virus.”

California

In other recent developments, the District of Northern California closed the Robert F. Peckham Federal Building in San Jose to both the public and staff after discovering that a person who visited the courthouse on three occasions in mid-March was subsequently treated for COVID-19. The district, located in one of the epicenters of the pandemic in the United States, earlier this month closed all its courthouses to the public until May 1, although some proceedings are being conducted. The San Jose courthouse is closed to both the public and staff until April 7.

Hawaii

In Hawaii, the district court is closed to the public until May 3, but like many other federal courts, it also is making accommodations to ensure continued media and public access to court proceedings. “Civil and criminal hearings will be conducted on a toll-free teleconference line, and that teleconference line will be available to members of the public and the media, to the extent practicable,” wrote Chief Judge Michael Seabright in a March 23 order. “Dial-in information will be available on each case’s individual docket on PACER, and further instructions can be found on the court’s website.”

March 23, 2020 Update

The federal courthouse in Springfield, Massachusetts was ordered closed until further notice, after a court employee exhibited “symptoms consistent with COVID-19.” The district is working to maintain court operations during the building closure.

A growing number of courts are conducting most or all proceedings through electronic means, such as video conferences and telephone conference calls.

The District of Nevada said it is “striving to eliminate in-person court appearances.”  A March 19 order said, “In the event that a hearing must go forward, the Court will attempt to conduct the hearing by video conference or telephone (with the defendant’s consent in criminal cases), and the courtroom will be closed. Members of the public may call in to listen to a scheduled hearing on the phone line provided for each hearing.”

March 20, 2020 Update

James C. Duff, director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, urged courts to enact several measures to protected public safety. “I strongly urge all of you to exercise flexibility and compassion in accommodating staff needs,” he wrote.

The March 19 guidance specifically recommended the following:

  • Permit as many employees as is practicable to telework.
  • Postpone all courthouse proceedings with more than 10 people, such as naturalization ceremonies.
  • Conduct in-person court proceedings only when absolutely necessary.  Utilize videoconferencing or audioconferencing capabilities where practicable.
  • Conduct jury proceedings only in exceptional circumstances.
  • Limit the number of family members who attend proceedings.
  • Stagger scheduling of critical court proceedings to reduce the number of people in seating galleries, wells of courtrooms, conference rooms, and public waiting areas; and
  • Limit staff at critical courtroom proceedings to fewer than 10 people, and ensure that they are at least six feet apart. 

In other developments, two courthouses were closed after it was confirmed that someone in the courthouse had contracted the virus.

The Middle District of Pennsylvania closed the Harrisburg courthouse “until further notice.” According to a March 18 order, “a federal law enforcement agent resident in the Harrisburg Courthouse has tested positive for COVID-19 and that several other individuals who were exposed to this agent are exhibiting symptoms consistent with COVID-19.”

The District of Delaware has closed its space, also “until further notice,” in the J. Caleb Boggs U.S. Courthouse and Federal Building in Wilmington. According to a March 19 order, an attorney who appeared before the court was diagnosed as having coronavirus (COVID-19).

The Northern District of California announced free public access to media and public for teleconference audio of civil hearings. Media and public also will be permitted to attend criminal proceedings.

March 19, 2020 Update

The District of Maryland has temporarily suspended all in-court proceedings in the Southern Division courthouse in Greenbelt, and moved all emergency criminal, civil, and bankruptcy matters related to public safety, public health and welfare, and individual liberty to the Northern Division courthouse in Baltimore. The order by Chief Judge James K. Bredar said that “consolidating court operations in one division will conserve scarce court and court-related agency resources, reduce the number of staff required to enter courthouses in this district, and allow for more effective, focused, and efficient health screening measures.”

General Order

March 18, 2020 Update

The federal courthouse in Rome, Georgia has been closed to the public after an employee fell ill with symptoms that suggest the possibility of COVID-19. Judge Harold L. Murphy, of the Northern District of Georgia, ordered the Rome courthouse closed until further notice to ensure, “to the extent possible, the health and safety of judges, court, and agency staff, and members of the public.”

General Order

March 17, 2020 Update

The Northern District of California has closed four federal courthouses to the public until May 1, under a March 16 order signed by Chief Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton. It was the first mass closing of federal courthouses since the Judiciary began its response to the coronavirus COVID-19 emergency.

Courthouses were closed at the following locations:

  • Phillip Burton Federal Building, San Francisco;
  • Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building, Oakland;
  • Robert F. Peckham Federal Building, San Jose; and
  • The U.S. Courthouse in McKinleyville.

Other Background

Nationally, the federal Judiciary is working together and closely with a number of federal agencies to monitor and share information. 

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO) organized a task force, which includes representatives from the General Services Administrative, the U.S. Marshals Service, Federal Occupational Health, and other federal partners as a single point of contact to share information and guidance related to the coronavirus outbreak as it relates to the Judiciary. The AO is also providing courts, probation and pretrial offices, and defender services organizations with human resources, budget, and other guidance and continual updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Please note the following changes to other Judiciary programs:

Find the latest on COVID-19 and preventative measures to take from the CDC.