CORONAVIRUS

Iowa Supreme Court encourages more remote proceedings

Justices say face shields no longer can substitute for masks

Michael Beard enters a plea Sept. 24 in Linn County District Court in Cedar Rapids. A new order from the Iowa Supreme Co
Michael Beard enters a plea Sept. 24 in Linn County District Court in Cedar Rapids. A new order from the Iowa Supreme Court encourages judges to hold more remote hearings and allows judges to accept written guilty pleas, which typically require a defendant to appear in person. The court on Tuesday also said face shields are no longer an “appropriate substitute” for a face mask. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — The Iowa Supreme Court, in its effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus and continue court services, are encouraging judges in Iowa’s eight districts to conduct more remote civil and criminal proceedings and accept written waivers in some criminal proceedings.

An order earlier this month delayed all jury trials in Iowa until Feb. 1. The new Tuesday order supplements ones issued in March when the coronavirus arrived in Iowa.

The order said district court judges still have discretion on courtroom proceedings.

But the Supreme Court is recommending judges, along with lawyers, defendants and litigants, accept or agree to have testimony by videoconferencing and by phone in civil cases and to proceed with non-jury criminal trials.

The court also recommends limits on how many face-to-face hearings should be scheduled on a given day and at a specific time in order to comply with safety protocols and required social distancing.

Face masks have been required since March, with face shields also an option. The new order, though, said face shields are no longer an “appropriate substitute” for a mask.

Until now, judges and lawyers had asked jurors and witnesses to wear face shields, so they could hear them better and see their facial expressions, to judge credibility.

The new order also allows a defense attorney to submit a written arraignment — a plea of not guilty — on the defendant’s behalf, and a defendant can waive a personal appearance in proceedings that normally require it through June 30.

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Judges again are encouraged to consider pretrial release when available under state law and to conduct bail reviews by phone or video.

The order also extends the provision for judges to accept written guilty pleas. Sentencings and bail reviews can be conducted by video or phone through June 30.

In juvenile court proceedings, judges should continue to use their discretion for conducting child-in-need-of-assistance, adjudications, dispositional and termination of parental rights hearings by phone and video.

In family law proceedings, judges should use discretion in using video conferencing for non-custodial trials and custody trials. These can’t be conducted by phone, according to the order.

Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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