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Missouri Supreme Court sets guidelines to reopen courthouses

The Missouri Supreme Court issued an order May 4 setting guidelines for the state’s court system to reopen gradually.

Since mid-March, courts have operated under a near ban on in-person hearings to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In its order, the Supreme Court said most restrictions will continue and judges still are encouraged to use remote technology whenever possible.

But as local conditions permit, some courts will be able to relax some of those restrictions starting May 16. In a 10-page set of operational directives, the court set “gateway criteria” for courts to follow. The measures “help make paramount the health and welfare of litigants, witnesses, victims, jurors, attorneys, judicial employees and other individuals involved in judicial proceedings in determining whether a courthouse is ready” to lift restrictions, the court said in a news release.

The process will be slow. Courts will pass through three phases of progressively lighter restrictions. In-person hearings will begin again, starting with the “most extraordinary, pressing and urgent cases.”

Courts must remain in each phase for at least two weeks, during which time there must be no confirmed COVID-19 cases in the court facility and health conditions in the community must be improving.

At that rate, the earliest a court could reach the least restricted phase would be mid-June. No court will be able to operate without any restrictions until the Supreme Court issues further orders.

Regardless of the phase in which they are operating, local courts will have to make provisions for vulnerable individuals to postpone required court appearances, follow social-distancing protocols, and clean and disinfect common areas. Courts should consider requiring the use of masks and providing hand sanitizers and wipes.

Local courts can revert to a prior operating phase immediately if required.

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This item is part of Missouri Lawyers Media's free coverage of how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the legal community.

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