Yes! As we are all well aware, COVID-19 has wreaked havoc not just across the country but across the world. Many states have enacted stay at home policies to encourage social distancing, which is believed to be the best way to stop the spread of the virus. The courts in Florida are no exception and they too have implemented new procedures for carrying on court business during this unusual time. The courts remain open for business, but how court proceedings will be handled over the next few weeks will differ from the ordinary course of business.
On March 17, the Florida Supreme Court issued an administrative order canceling non-essential court proceedings unless the chief judge of that circuit (there are 20 judicial circuits in Florida), determines that the court proceeding can be effectively handled remotely. Essential court activities include criminal matters, shelter hearings, juvenile detention hearings, risk protection orders, domestic violence, probate, guardianship and mental health, and relief related to COVID-19. Civil matters such as breach of contract and personal injury claims are considered non-essential and will be handled differently than the matters listed above.
Although civil cases have been deemed non-essential, they will continue via remotely conducted court proceedings, with the exception of jury trials, which have been suspended through May 29. The impetus to forge ahead with non-essential civil cases was the desire to avoid a massive backlog in lawsuits once the restrictions were lifted. To accomplish this objective, the Florida Supreme Court suspended all rules relating to the use of communication equipment for conducting proceedings remotely and has authorized each judicial circuit to implement temporary procedures for how to do this. With rules relating to remote appearances relaxed, as a litigant, you will be able to attend court hearings as well as depositions from the comfort of your own home.
Legal Rights During Corona Pandemic?
Rest assured, if you have a legal claim to pursue, there’s no need to put on the brakes. The courts are open for business. Court documents can be filed on the Florida Courts E-filing Portal, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and hearing, depositions and other proceedings will take place remotely so as to avoid public gatherings. Be sure to visit the website of your court to learn about the rules that are now in effect. If you’re in South Florida, you can access the websites for the three southern circuits as follows: Broward County, www.17th.flcourts.org; Miami-Dade County, www.jud11.flcourts.org; and Palm Beach County, www.15thcircuit.com.
Please contact my office at (954) 462-8850 if you have any questions about your legal rights or filing a legal action.