DES MOINES — The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday ordered that face-to-face court proceedings will not resume next month as previously planned.
Instead, the court will delay those until July 13, and jury trials won’t start until Sept. 14, due to the novel coronavirus restrictions.
Chief Justice Susan Christensen, in her order, said some counties may begin in person proceedings before July 13 if the county courthouse is open to the public and court operations in that county meet COVID-19 safety protocols as recommended by state court administration.
In response to the pandemic, only emergency and essential Iowa hearings have been held face-to-face since March 14. Since that time, the majority of court proceedings have been conducted by videoconference or teleconference.
Christensen, in the order, encouraged the continued use of teleconferences and videoconferences whenever possible and extended many of the remote hearing deadlines until the end of the year.
“We know that people and families with pending cases are anxious to have their day in court, but we must first ensure that the public and court personnel have confidence that appropriate cautionary measures have been taken to protect their health when entering our courtrooms,” Christensen said.
“Crowded courtrooms, heavy dockets and jury trials require Iowans to gather in county courthouses and courtrooms in proximity and for extended periods of time,” she said. “Those situations are contrary to social distancing and other public health directives.”
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Christensen said the court has spoken with public health experts, court users, legal organizations and members of the new Jump Start Jury Trials Task Force. They have determined, at this time, it’s not safe to resume in-person court proceedings on June 1.
State court administration is working with county and public health officials to determine the criteria and protocols for reopening.
Those guidelines include adequate supplies of personal protection equipment, appropriate screening of all who enter the courthouse, ability to maintain social distancing through all court procedures, and high level cleaning, according to the order.
Court administration also will monitor for any regional outbreaks of COVID-19.
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