Fed. Circ. Allows Courthouse Access On Case-By-Case Basis

By Craig Clough
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Law360 (June 29, 2020, 7:34 PM EDT) -- The Federal Circuit announced Monday that it is modifying its access restrictions and will consider requests to enter the National Courts Building on a case-by-case basis.

Entry into the courthouse has been severely limited since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and while that policy remains in effect, the new order says anyone who does not work in the building and wishes to enter must submit the request in writing at least 24 hours in advance.

"These restrictions modify and supersede those outlined in the administrative orders of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and the United States Court of Federal Claims both dated March 16, and will remain in place as a temporary measure until Aug. 14, 2020, unless modified by a subsequent order," the order said, which was signed by Chief Judge Sharon Prost of the Federal Circuit and Chief Judge Margaret M. Sweeney of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

The March order said areas outside of the lobby, courtrooms, public halls, clerk's office and attorney lounges are off-limits to the public. People dropping off court filings will not be permitted to enter the building and will have to deposit filings in a box outside, according to the order.

Attorneys, their clients and members of the media will be allowed entry into limited areas of the building on scheduled court hearing dates, the March order said. The circuit court said that the restrictions do not affect case deadlines and that audio recordings of oral arguments will be available online after hearings have concluded.

The new order said that judges, special masters, law clerks, chambers staff, court staff, interns, general services administration personnel and contractors performing work in the National Courts Building and connecting buildings, and law enforcement and security officers would be permitted access.

All other people must request access 24 hours in advance, which will be granted on a case-by-case basis by the chief judge or "whichever court is appropriate under the circumstances, or her designee."

The order comes as other courts around the country are making access adjustments in an effort to deal with COVID-19. The chief federal judge in Houston on Monday shut down public access to the federal courthouse there amid a regional spike in COVID-19 cases, citing the need to protect citizens, court staff and its officers from the spread of the virus.

The American Civil Liberties Union alleged in California federal court recently that the Kern County Superior Court is violating the First Amendment by placing undue restrictions on public access to judicial proceedings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan on Friday also suspended three New York Times staff members who it says violated its rules on photography by posting screenshots from a Zoom hearing earlier this month.

--Additional reporting by Sarah Martinson, Kevin Penton and Emma Cueto. Editing by Peter Rozovsky.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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