Update to Union County Court Operations, Effective Monday, June 1, 2020

Update to Court Operations for Union County Starting June 1, 2020 

The Administrative Orders from the Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court—applicable to all courthouses in the State of Florida—that limited in-person hearings, required non-essential hearings to be conducted remotely, and suspended all jury proceedings, are set to expire today.  One May 21st, the Chief Justice issued new Administrative Orders (AOSC20-23 and AOSC20-32) that modified court operations slightly and established phases for each judicial circuit to meet in order to completely return to in-person hearings for all cases and divisions.

The Chief Judge of each circuit has the authority and responsibility to issue orders that implement the Florida Supreme Court’s orders in each local jurisdiction.  The Florida Supreme Court’s orders can be found at this link.

https://www.floridasupremecourt.org/Emergency

At the end of last week, the Chief Judge of the 8th Judicial Circuit (Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Gilchrist, Levy, and Union Counties), issued Administrative Order 11.32, clarifying the Supreme Court directives that will affect court operations for the entire circuit and each individual county therein.  The 8th Circuit order can be found here: https://circuit8.org/wp-content/uploads/11.32-Second-Revised-Corona-Virus-Pandemic-Emergency-Procedures.pdf

The 8th Judicial Circuit will be in a modified Phase 1 starting today, June 1st.  Here are the modifications summarized:

  • Jury proceedings remain suspended.
  • All court events shall continue to be conducted remotely, if possible.
  • “Essential” court events which cannot reasonably be conducted remotely may proceed with some or all in-person appearances.
  • The type of court events which are deemed “essential” (thereby allowing in-person appearances) have been slightly expanded to include out-of-custody changes of plea in criminal cases, Dependency & TPR trials, and limited family law matters.
  • The following safety precautions are required throughout the circuit:
  • Hearing times for in-person court events must be staggered so that no more than 10 people are present in the gallery of the courtroom at a time.
  • All persons in the courthouse, including the courtrooms, must be separated by six feet whenever possible. This includes staff.
  • Face coverings are required for everyone present in the judicial areas of the courthouse, including courtrooms. Everyone is encouraged to bring their own face masks, but if that is not possible, one will be provided.

 Local officials in Union County advocated against the facemask requirement.  Our COVID-19 numbers low, our population is small and sparse, and courthouse traffic is relatively low compared to other counties in our circuit or the state.  On the other hand, court proceedings cause large groups to mass together in confined spaces, many of our court proceedings involve individuals who travel here from other areas that have much higher levels of COVID-19 infections, and there is a strong interest in reducing the risk of infection for those who are required to come to a court event as well as the staff in the courthouse.

At the end of the day, the Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court has required it as a precondition to moving through the phases and getting back to “normal.”

That being said, here, is how we will handle the following court divisions:

County Civil and Small Claims: hearings will be conducted remotely by telephone or video platform.  We will be able to conduct meditation for small claims court remotely for June.  Revised notices for June 4th and June 18th have been sent with instructions on how to appear by video or phone.

Misdemeanor, Criminal and Civil Traffic: Violation of Probation hearings and Change of Pleas will be conducted in person.  Arraignments for individuals out of custody will occur telephonically and/or through video.  For the compliance docket (individuals on payment plans to pay court costs and fees), payments are still due, but court appearance is not required.  Continue to communicate with the Clerk of Court’s office about your payments.

Juvenile Delinquency: the June docket will be conducted by video.  Parties will receive a notice to appear with instructions for calling into the video conference.

Felony: The felony division will be holding complete dockets for case management and pretrial conference.  These proceedings will be conducted electronically.  Change of plea, disposition and certain motion hearings will be held electronically, if possible, but may be specially set for in person appearance.   In addition, violation of probation hearings will be set and conducted for in-custody cases.  Notice for the specific court events discussed above will be provided to either the defendant and/or their attorney.  It is essential that each defendant remain in contact with their attorney and keep their address updated with the Clerk of Court, bondsman (if applicable), their attorney, and the probation department (if applicable).

Circuit Civil Cases (Family Law, Probate, Domestic Violence, Civil):  There is a protocol in place to hear domestic violence cases and shelters on an emergency basis when necessary. Questions regarding this process can be directed to Court Administration. Other requests to hear cases on an emergency or urgent basis should be reduced to writing and filed in the court file for review by the presiding judge.

All new Domestic Violence Hearings will be heard on Fridays rather than Wednesdays. The Clerk of Court will notify parties of the correct date. All other Circuit Civil, Family Law and Probate hearings will be conducted by video conference, and/or by telephone, or the cases may be continued.

Cases that are currently set for hearing will be heard by video or telephone conference whenever that is possible and the Zoom link will be in your notice.  Hearings that must be heard in person, at the discretion of the presiding judge, shall be cancelled and rescheduled for a later time or if they meet an exception the Court will make arrangements for an in-person hearing.  Please read your hearing notice carefully, it will give you guidance on how to proceed.

There will be a foreclosure docket by video on Thursday, June 4, 2020.  Parties should have received notices with instructions.

Dependency:  hearings will be conducted by video as they were in April and May.  Parties should contact their attorneys for call-in information.  If parties are self-represented, they should contact their family care counselor for the call-in information.  Cases related to Termination of Parental Rights will be scheduled and arrangements will be made for all parties to appear in-person or by video conference, or a combination of both.

Child Support: these cases will be handled similar to Dependency.  Individuals with a court date for June will receive a new notice and instructions from the Florida Department of Revenue on how to call-in/log-in for a telephonic/video appearance.

Your case number tells you what type of case you have.  For example, a county civil case would be styled, 63-2020-CC-0001.  The two letters in the middle are the division code.

Here are the division codes:

CA – Circuit Civil
CC – County Civil
CF – Circuit Felony
CJ – Juvenile Delinquency
CP – Circuit Probate
CT – Criminal Traffic
DP – Dependency
DR – Family, domestic relations, Domestic Violence
GA – Guardianship
MH – Mental health (Baker Acts/Marchman Acts)
MM – Misdemeanor
SC – Small Claims
TR – Civil Traffic

If you have questions about your hearing date and time, contact your attorney, or, if self-represented, please call the Clerk of Court or the Judicial Assistant of the Judge presiding over your case.  Contact information can be found at https://unionclerk.com/ or https://circuit8.org/.

We appreciate everyone’s patience during this difficult time and look forward to getting back to normal operations as soon as possible.

Judge Bishop, Judge Ferrero, and Judge Pena