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How The COVID-19 Outbreak Has Disrupted the Court System

covid-19 and the court system

The coronavirus pandemic has been indiscriminate, and it has brought even the court systems to a halt in Alabama and elsewhere. It’s crucial during this time for attorneys to keep the communication lines open with their clients and keep them updated about the latest orders of the Alabama Supreme Court regarding the suspension of in-person court hearings and when the normal functioning might be resumed.

The competent and resourceful lawyers at Smith & McGhee, PC in Alabama are making the best use of technology during this time to operate remotely and are taking virtual consultations. Wherever any legal matters, documentation or preparatory work related to settlements or court hearings can be completed through video conferencing, telephone or email, the attorneys are diligently doing everything to protect the clients’ interests.

In-Person Court Hearings Suspended until the 30th of April

In response to the CDC guidelines related to Covid-19 pandemic, the Alabama Supreme Court has suspended all in-person court hearings until the 30th of April in the state.

Each court is making the necessary modifications in compliance with the order to restrict courthouse access, reschedule hearings, cancel non-case related activities, and allow oral arguments via video conferencing or telephone in emergency cases.      

The initial order from Alabama Chief Justice Tom Parker, who is the chief administrative officer for the court system in the state had suspended in-person court hearings for one month from the 16th of March to the 16th of April. Exceptions were made for some emergency proceedings and trials already underway. But looking at the continuing coronavirus infection risks, the suspension has been extended up to the 30th of April.

The order suggests that the judges and court clerks should utilize communication technologies, including video conferencing, tele-conferencing, and electronic filing as far as possible during this period. The order also stated that any local or state rules, whether civil or criminal, that impeded the ability of an Alabama judge or court clerk to limit in-person contact and utilize remote technologies is suspended.

Exceptions to the Order

In addition to the trials that are already underway, some other court proceedings that are exceptions to the Supreme Court order include:

  • Plea agreements and bonds for inmates that are essential to protect the constitutional rights of criminal defendants
  • Emergency child custody and protection proceedings, including emergency matters related to the Department of Human Resources
  • Abuse protection
  • Emergency protection of the vulnerable or elderly individuals
  • Emergency mental health orders
  • Matters related directly to the Covid-19 public health emergency
  • Temporary injunctive relief
  • Matters needed by law enforcement

Any other exceptions to the order must be approved by the Chief Justice Parker. Each circuit court judge will hold the power to decide how to conduct the court’s business for issues listed as exceptions to the order. The order has not prohibited courts from considering matters that can possibly be resolved without involving an in-person proceeding.

Protective orders and temporary injunctions that were set to expire by the 30th of April are now extended to 30th April. However, an exception to this rule is when a trial court chooses to enter an order to the contrary.

How does the Suspension of Court Hearings Affect Your Ongoing Case?

If your case was set for trial, it currently stands postponed to an unknown date in the future. At the same time, all court hearings are indefinitely postponed, which will limit the ability of your attorney to move your case forward.

If you have a pending civil case, the court hearings as well as trials will resume at some future date, but the resulting delay could be significantly more than just the current period of suspension. Criminal cases have also been put on hold and trials will continue at a later date. Incarcerated individuals who are waiting for a trial date may have to remain in prison until their case can be presented.

You should consult with an experienced attorney for legal advice and determine whether your case qualifies for a remote proceeding during the period of suspension. Your attorney will also examine the possibility of negotiating an out of court settlement for your civil case through virtual meetings with the other party, depending on your needs and circumstances related to the case.

If the time limit of your case as per the statute of limitations is approaching while the court system is suspended, you should speak to a knowledgeable attorney as soon as possible. Alabama’s electronic filing system allows lawyers to file a case online. Therefore, even while the in-person court hearings are not taking place, your attorney will move forward with the filing of your case before the deadline.

If the settlement in your case has already been reached before the court hearings were suspended, your attorney can still remotely engage with the insurance company to have your compensation processed electronically even if there is quarantine or the courts are suspended.

Consult with Seasoned Attorneys for Your Civil or Criminal Matter

The skilled and experienced Alabama attorneys at Smith & McGhee, PC are equipped to provide you robust legal representation for a diverse range of legal matters, including criminal defense, family law, personal injury, estate planning and probate. To schedule your initial consultation, call us at 334-702-1744 today.