State courts limit access to 10 people during virus emergency

The Detroit News

The Michigan Supreme Court has issued an order limiting access at state courts as coronavirus cases rise.

According to the order released Wednesday night, "trial courts are ordered to limit access to courtrooms and other spaces to no more than 10 persons, including staff, and to practice social distancing and limit court activity to only essential functions."

Essential functions include arraignments for in-custody defendants, review and determination of requests for search warrants and personal protection orders, certain child protective proceedings and critical issues regarding child support and child custody, among others as specified in the order.

The new order also provides courts with additional flexibility to conduct business using technology such as video and telephone conferencing.

"All trial courts must take immediate action to protect the public and court personnel by limiting activity only to essential functions,” said Chief Justice Bridget McCormack. “The Supreme Court speaks with one, decisive voice: Courts must respond so that the policy is uniform all across Michigan.”

The order is scheduled to remain in effect through April 3. It covers circuit, criminal, family and probate courts.

State of Michigan Supreme Court seal in The Hall of Justice in Lansing.

Some proceedings, such as district court in-custody criminal defendants, pleas, sentencings, arraignments, bond motions, probable cause conferences and preliminary examinations, must be conducted remotely using two-way interactive video technology or other remote participation tools, according to the order.

The same applies in civil and traffic matters or they must be adjourned until after April 3, the order said. In traffic matters, "no bench warrants shall be issued for individuals failing to appear during the state of emergency."

In circuit and district courts, all criminal jury trials will be adjourned until after April 3, according to the order.

"To confront this unprecedented public health crisis, Michigan trial courts must ensure that court facilities are taking every measure possible to protect the public and court personnel," the order read.

The move comes the same day of the first reported death tied to COVID-19 in Michigan.

The number of confirmed cases of the virus in Michigan had reached 110 by Wednesday, a combination of cases confirmed by the state and private lab testing. But health policy experts say the number of cases is actually much larger because not everyone with the virus is tested.

The governor has moved to limit the spread the virus in Michigan. Last week, Whitmer shuttered Michigan's schools for three weeks. She also banned public gatherings of more than 50 people and closed bars, movie theaters, workout facilities and dine-in service at restaurants and has called up the Michigan National Guard to collect and load protective gear for local health departments.