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Virtual Hearings to Continue as State Courts Extend In-Person Restrictions

Posted: Friday, May 1, 2020

Virtual Hearings to Continue as State Courts Extend In-Person Restrictions

Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie S. Gildea has issued another order that extends the limited physical access to courthouses until May 18, 2020, in order to reduce and slow the spread of COVID-19. Remote, or virtual, technology may be used to conduct hearings in pending cases when possible. The order also suspends all jury trials, authorizing them to only begin June 1, 2020, at the earliest. The State Court Administrator, Jeff Shorba, has also launched a new webpage to assist Minnesotans who must participate in remote hearings, and to provide information to members of the public who wish to access a remote hearing.
 
Since the initial in-person restrictions were imposed, the Minnesota Judicial Council, State Court Administration, and judicial district and court administration leaders have been working with the Minnesota Department of Health, local health officials and justice partners to develop appropriate plans that will allow for an eventual safe reopening of courthouses.
 
“It is our top priority to ensure that when more in-person courthouse activities resume, we are doing so in a safe and efficient manner,” said Chief Justice Gildea. “Minnesotans have a constitutional right to access justice through state courts and we are committed to making sure that that access does not involve unnecessary risk for anyone involved.”
 
Below is a summary of the order; for full details see the order.
 

District Court Hearings & Processing – See: section B. & section C.

The order continues the previous authorization for the use of remote technology when possible to conduct hearings in any pending cases, except those required to be in the courtroom. Technology options courts are using in remote hearings include ITV, WebEx, Zoom, Virtual Courtrooms, and phone bridges. Litigants and attorneys required to participate in remote hearings, and interested members of the public who wish to listen to or view public hearings, can find information about remote hearings and the associated technology at: mncourts.gov/remote-hearings  
 
Courthouses will continue to remain open on a limited basis for in-person hearings that should be held in courtrooms. The order once again specifies the hearings and case types where in-person hearings are required. Courts will continue to accept filings in all case types. Self-help services will continue to be conducted via phone or email. District courts may be contacted by phone (bottom of the page) or email.
 

Fines & Fees – See: section C., paragraph 17.

Any questions about fines and fees should be directed to the appropriate district court (bottom of page) or the Minnesota Court Payment Center. Actions taken by the State Court Administrator, in response to the authorization in this order and previous orders, are posted and will continue to be posted under Public Notices on the Judicial Branch website. These public notices will also be available on the emergency webpage under Other COVID-19 Orders.


Jurors – See: section B., paragraphs 2. & 3.

Jurors must continue to follow the instructions on their paper summons, but the Minnesota Judicial Branch will not be calling any additional jurors to courthouses until June 1, 2020, at the earliest. No new jury trials will begin prior to that date. Grand juries that have been empaneled as of March 23, 2020, and are actively hearing a case, will continue to hear the case.  
 
The Judicial Council approved the use of a pilot program to evaluate processes for jury trials in criminal cases earlier during an April 2020 meeting. Those pilots will not start before June 1, 2020, and the pilot trials will not start until guidelines for such proceedings are established.
 

Media – See: section C., paragraph 16.

The order continues the previous processes in place for media to be allowed access to hearings. Media who wish to cover a hearing must work with the State Court Information Office or the Hennepin County District Court Communications Specialist. Media must provide 24-hours advance notice of a request to attend a hearing, and will be required to follow all social distancing protocols enforced by court administration and judicial officers. Where multiple requests exist, media may be required to coordinate a pool. Public access terminals (courthouse terminals) or non-courtroom spaces in courthouses remain unavailable for the public or media. Media may work with the Court Information Office to request documents.