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Court order suspends in-person proceedings

According to a March 13 order, the Alabama Supreme Court has suspended all in-person proceedings for the time being in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The President of the United States having declared a national emergency and the Governor of Alabama having declared a state of emergency for the State of Alabama amid the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (“COVID- 19”) pandemic,” the order reads, “the Supreme Court of Alabama, pursuant to the authority vested in it … hereby declares a state of emergency for the entire Judicial Branch of the State of Alabama.”

The order goes on to say local and state courts of the State of Alabama are open and will remain open under all circumstances, but all in-person proceedings in all state and local courts in Alabama – including circuit court, district court, juvenile court, municipal court, probate court and appellate courts – are suspended.

The suspension began March 16 and will continue through April 16.

The order notes several exceptions to the suspension, including civil and criminal jury trials that are in progress as of March 13 as well as:

  • Proceedings necessary to protect constitutional rights of criminal defendants, including bond-related matters
  • and plea agreements for incarcerated individuals
  • Proceedings related to protection from abuse
  • Proceedings related to emergency child custody and protection orders
  • Department of Human Resources emergency matters related to child protection
  • Proceedings related to petitions for temporary injunctive relief
  • Proceedings related to emergency mental health orders
  • Proceedings related to emergency protection of elderly or vulnerable persons
  • Proceedings directly related to the COVID-19 public health emergency
  • Any emergent proceeding as needed by law enforcement
  • Other exceptions as approved by the chief justice

According to the official order, “the presiding judge or the designee of the presiding judge of each judicial circuit is authorized to determine the manner in which in-person court proceedings for the exceptions listed above are to be conducted.”

Other exceptions to the suspension of in-person court proceedings must be approved by the chief justice.

Any permitted in-court proceedings, the order adds, shall be limited to attorneys, parties, witnesses, security officers and other necessary persons as determined by the trial judge.

Judges are charged with the responsibility of ensuring that core constitutional functions and rights are protected.

Additionally, court clerks are charged with ensuring that court functions continue.

“Nevertheless,” the order adds, “all judges and court clerks are urged to limit in-person courtroom contact as much as possible by utilizing available technologies, including electronic filing, teleconferencing and videoconferencing.”

Any Alabama state or local rule, criminal or civil, that impedes a judge’s or court clerk’s ability to utilize available technologies to limit in-person contact is suspended until April 16.