State, federal courts outline COVID-19 rules for hearing delays, restricted access

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Michigan and federal court administrators have issued guidance to court offices regarding the potential for closure, postponement of some hearings and screening of individuals entering courthouses. 

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan announced it would start  screening protocols for people entering courthouses in Ann Arbor, Bay City, Detroit, Flint and Port Huron. 

“The court has been closely monitoring this situation and has issued this notice out of an abundance of caution,” Court Administrator David Weaver said.

Upon entering the federal facilities, people must tell security officers if they have been diagnosed with COVID-19, if they've been self-quarantined, if they're experiencing virus symptoms, been in close contact with someone with COVID-19, or visited China, South Korea, Italy or Iran in the previous 14 days. 

The Theodore Levin United States Courthouse in downtown Detroit.

People denied access because of those circumstances should contact their attorney, pretrial services, the probation office or the jury department. Attorneys should contact the judge with any concerns. 

State courts, in the meantime, have been advised by Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget McCormack to communicate with their local health departments, develop a communications plan and consider delays to certain hearings. 

McCormack sent letters to state courts on Tuesday morning and again Wednesday after the first confirmed case, noting that the State Court Administrative Office was working with the executive branch on response.

“…we are keenly focused on our three fundamental obligations: to protect the health of litigants, judicial branch employees, and the public using court facilities; to maintain critical judicial branch functions; and to provide appropriate judicial input to the process of protecting the public,” McCormack said.

State courts should consider adjourning hearings with people more than 60 years of age or people who are medically compromised, McCormack said in a letter. The courts might also consider remote hearings over a video feed, especially when it comes to mental health trials, guardian ad litem proceedings, and mental health trials. 

Court administrators could also consider adjourning civil trials and criminal trials if a defendant is not in custody.

“With respect to closing your court, consult with your regional administrator, local emergency management, public health officials, and your funding unit in order to make a decision that best fits local conditions,” McCormack said.

Courts with a disruption to service because of COVID-19 should contact the State Court Administrators Office.