What Is Going On With The Courts Now That The State Is Getting Opened Up?
Courthouses, even in the best of times, are like pools of germs. You have people from every walk of life in there, including people that are incarcerated, sick, old and young. Some people get all dressed up before they go to court, others don’t even seem to think it’s necessary to shower.
Because of that, courthouses in Missouri are going to be a little behind many other businesses in the state to fully open to the public.
The Missouri Supreme Court, in anticipation of the reopening of Missouri on May 4, issued guidelines for each county to follow in order to get things going again with their courts. These include, first of all, that there be NO confirmed COVID-19 cases at that court facility within a 14 day period. They also require that stay at home orders for that county be relaxed, and that there be an improvement in cases in that county. If these conditions can be met, the court can start opening in phases, which will be determined by the chief judge of that county.
St. Louis County and St. Charles County Courts:
Currently, in St Louis County and City, we remain in phase ZERO (St Charles County is open but with limited access). This does not mean that everything has stopped. Judges are still working as are essential court personnel. Things still get filed with the court and signed by judges and entered on CaseNet. What is not happening are in-person hearings. The public is basically not permitted in the courthouse.
Luckily, in St Louis County, we have pretty tech savvy judges. So if you have a case that has a settlement conference or a hearing scheduled, we are likely to be able to do it over Zoom. You will not be “invited” to participate, it will just be the lawyers with the judge, however, you also will not be required to be there in court, sitting in the hall and missing work. Not actually so bad. I have been able to accomplish quite a bit on Zoom, got several cases settled and have made some really good progress on others. After the conference or hearing, your lawyer will contact you, and as in the past, will tell you what went on, what the judge said, and what your next steps are.
What is The Status of Your Pending Trial:
If your case is set for trial, don’t plan on there being a trial over Zoom. Although it has been discussed, the overall management of exhibits and witnesses makes that difficult. Unfortunately, trials in all but the most urgent matters will be pushed back, likely to the fall. An exception to this is Orders of Protection. These are considered urgent matters, so although the St Louis County Courthouse has kept their Order of Protection office open for people to file Petitions for Orders of Protection and Child Protection, you can also do this online, and have your hearing online.
If you do need to go into the courthouse for anything, you are likely to have your temperature checked. You will need to be wearing a mask for the entire time you are there, and follow all of the directions you are given as to social distancing.