Last Friday, the Arizona Supreme Court issued a new administrative order laying out a plan for courts to return to normal operations. Since March, the Supreme Court has ordered a limit to in-person court proceedings, the suspension of jury trials, and the use of telecommunication to conduct hearings. Last Friday’s order is the first of its kind to establish a guide for rolling back these restrictions, albeit slowly.
The latest Supreme Court order lays out its procedure for reopening the courts in a four-phase plan.
Phase 1 of the plan is set to begin the first day of June.
In June, courts have been ordered to begin transitioning to in-person proceedings “to the extent this can be safely accomplished.” This will include limiting court hearings to parties, victims, witnesses, jurors, and attorneys. Court have further been ordered to follow CDC social distancing guidelines to limit the number of people at any court hearing to 10.
The Supreme Court order also requires that all people in the courthouse wear masks. Courts are ordered to exclude anybody who refuses to wear masks or following the screening protocol and “attempt to make alternate arrangements for them to conduct court business.” If the person who fails to follow the safety protocol is scheduled to attend a court hearing, that person will still be prohibited from entering the courthouse and the judge will be notified.
The health screening protocol may also require body temperature screening at court entrances. However, the order leaves the exact health screening procedures up to the presiding judge of each court.
Jury Trials to Resume in June
The new executive order also states that jury trial may resume as early as June 15th. The exact date that jury trials will resume are left up to the presiding judges of each individual court. So do not expect a uniform approach to be taken by all of Arizona’s courthouses.
Web Access to Court Proceedings?
In a move that would do a good deal to Arizona’s courtrooms into the 21st century, the Supreme Court order requires “public access by video or audio to court proceedings which are typically open to the public.” The order is unclear exactly how this video or audio shall be provided. The most forward-thinking solution to this mandate would obviously be to livestream courtroom proceedings. Beyond providing a safe means for the public to view court hearings during the coronavirus pandemic, such a measure would go far to provide more open access to the court system once the crisis has passed.
No Date for Implementing Phases 2-4
The phases of the Supreme Court’s order that come after June outline a gradual restoration of normalcy in Arizona courts. These phases include increasing the number of people allowed in the courtroom and increasing courtroom staffing. At the same time, CDC social distancing guidance is to be followed.
There is no time frame for when the next phase of the Court’s plan will be implemented. One imagines it would largely depend on the current situation of the health crisis, both locally and throughout the United States.