Pursuant to order of the Missouri Supreme Court which provides guidance to the presiding judge of each judicial circuit on the steps that must be taken in order to reopen our circuit courts (the full order found at https://www.courts.mo.gov/page.jsp?id=156095),
In summary, the directives contained in the order state that the courts are to reopen in phases. All courts are presently in Phase Three, and after a spike in COVID-19 cases in Douglas County and positive cases in the Douglas County Courthouse, I have found that Douglas County will be phasing down to Phase One effective November 19, 2020.
The Courts may only resume the most critical in-person proceedings and restrict grand and petit jury proceedings to only the most extraordinary, pressing, and urgent cases. Occupancy rates in courtrooms, jury assembly rooms, and other areas in the court facility will be 10 or less whenever possible and operate under strict social distancing protocols. Adhere to use of masks or face coverings in the court facility. Large venues and common areas such as break rooms will be closed. Judges and court staff to utilize all available technologies, including teleconferencing and video conferencing whenever possible to limit in-person courtroom appearances to the extent not prohibited by constitutional or statutory provisions. Courts will continue social distancing, and will work to allow “vulnerable” litigants, witnesses, victims, attorneys, and other individuals involved in court proceedings to participate remotely via audiovisual technology. “Vulnerable individuals” are defined by the Centers for Disease Control as:
Individuals 65 years or older, or
Individuals with underlying medical conditions, particularly if not well controlled, including those who suffer from:
Chronic lung disease
Moderate to severe asthma
Serious heart conditions
Chronic kidney or liver disease
In summary, the directives contained in the order of the Supreme Court allow courts to reopen in phases, and after meeting certain criteria, may advance or lower through phases. The criteria to be considered includes determining the local health conditions in relation to the COVID-19 virus. Each court must remain in a phase for at least fourteen (14) days prior to advancing to the next higher phase. Prior to advancing a phase, the Supreme Court’s order also allows a local court to move back in phases if a local health condition deteriorates. Operating Phase Three is the only phase wherein a court may resume regular jury proceedings, and then only if social distancing protocols can be achieved. No court may advance back to pre-COVID operations until further order of the Missouri Supreme Court.