Effective May 16, 2020, the Missouri Supreme Court’s Order established a four (4) phased plan to reopen courthouses across our State. This operational directive applies to all State Courts in Missouri and explains the criteria for how all 46 judicial circuits in Missouri will reopen access to staff, attorneys and the general public.
The four (4) phases transition from the most restrictive (phase “0”) to the least restrictive (phase “3”). The highlights of the Court’s order are as follows:
In phase “0”, which courthouses across Missouri have largely been operating under since the original Order from the Missouri Supreme Court on March 16, 2020 , all in-person hearings are restricted or prohibited, with few exceptions, such as emergency matters dealing directly with the safety of individuals and proceedings necessary to protect certain constitutional rights of criminal defendants.
In phase “1”, which currently applies to most courthouses in our State, courts are directed to consider the resuming of only the most critical proceedings. Access to large venues and common areas will be prohibited, while limiting the number of individuals in courtrooms and other gathering spaces to no more than ten (10) people, whenever possible. Court’s may screen individuals for symptom’s related to COVID-19 prior to permitting entry into the courthouse and may require the use of facial masks to all individuals who do enter, while also enforcing social distancing requirements.
In phase “2”, courts are permitted to begin resuming certain grand jury and jury trial matters and some other matters that were previously prohibited; permitted to raise the restriction of the number of people in courtrooms and gathering spaces from ten (10) to twenty five (25) while maintaining the ability to screen individuals for symptom’s related to COVID-19, require the use of masks and enforce social distancing requirements.
In phase “3”, courts are permitted to resume in person court appearances; permitted to consider reopening areas in the courthouse that had been previously restricted; permitted to consider removing the limitation on the number of individuals in courtrooms and other common areas; and are permitted to consider eliminating any previous orders to screen individuals for symptom’s related to COVID-19.
The four phased plan is designed to not be an automatic series of steps to reopening of courthouses to pre-pandemic conditions. It is designed to be an operational directive based upon the specific local conditions where individual courthouses are located. By order of the presiding Judge in each circuit, courthouses may move up or down between phases. Specifically, depending on factors such as positive tests for individuals who work in the courthouse, a change or spike in the rate of infection in local communities or the reinstatement of community restrictions by local elected officials, courthouses that are operating in phase 2 or higher may revert to phase 1 or even phase 0 conditions. Under the best of circumstances, courthouses are prohibited from moving up from one phase to the next, thus reducing restrictions, at a rate faster than every fourteen (14) days.
To underscore the fact that local conditions will dictate the operational phases, despite the fact that the courthouse in the 11th Judicial Circuit of St. Charles County is less than 18 miles from courthouse in the 21st Judicial Circuit of St. Louis County, they will likely be operating under significantly different conditions in the near term. The presiding Judge in St. Charles County has issued an order that he is planning to move to from the current phase 1 to phase 2 effective June 1st, 2020. Yet, based in part on the reported positive tests of inmates and employees in St. Louis County court system, the 21st Judicial Circuit will very likely be moving at a slower pace in loosening their restrictions and thus moving into phase 1 and subsequently phase 2.
For these reasons, if you have a pending matter in our Missouri Court system, it is critical that you speak with your attorney to receive the latest information and how that may impact your case and future court dates.