State Supreme Court issues order on 'emergency measures'

Christine MacDonald
The Detroit News

The Michigan State Supreme Court on Sunday ordered trial courts to enact "emergency measures" to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, including postponing cases and limiting the number of cases heard at a time. 

Criminal cases can be adjourned, when there isn't a defendant in custody, as well as civil cases, according to the order. When there is a defendant incarcerated, videoconferencing should be used "when the defendant consents."

The order also includes:

• In civil cases, trial courts should maximize the use of technology to enable and/or require parties to participate remotely. Any fees charged to allow parties to participate remotely should be waived.

•Trial courts may reduce the number of cases set to be heard at any given time to limit the number of people gathered in entranceways, lobbies, corridors or courtrooms.

•Trial courts should maximize the use of technology to facilitate electronic filing and service to reduce the need for in-person filing and service.

•Trial courts should, wherever possible, waive strict adherence to any adjournment rules or policies and administrative and procedural time requirements.

•Trial courts should coordinate with the local probation departments to allow for discretion in the monitoring of probationers’ ability to comply with conditions without the need for amended orders of probation.

•Trial courts should take any other reasonable measures to avoid exposing participants in court proceedings, court employees, and the general public to the  COVID-19 virus.

•In addition to giving consideration to other obligations imposed by law, trial courts are urged to take into careful consideration public health factors arising out of the present state of emergency: a) in making pretrial release decisions, including in determining any conditions of release and b) in determining any conditions of probation.

•If a chief judge or the court’s funding unit decides to close the court building to the public, the chief judge shall provide the State Court Administrative Office with the court’s plan to continue to provide critical services, including handling emergency matters.

The emergency measures will last until the end of business April 3, according to the press release. 

“This order provides authority and direction for the courts of Michigan to take every measure necessary to protect the public,” said Chief Justice Bridget McCormack in the release. “The message is simple: Emergency action to protect the public shall take precedence over normal operating procedures."