Delaware COVID-19 Court Restrictions Extended To Sept. 5

By Jeff Montgomery
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Law360 (August 5, 2020, 2:05 PM EDT) -- Pointing to "the concerning national trend of increasing virus spread," Delaware's Supreme Court chief justice extended the state's current COVID-19 judicial emergency until Sept. 5 early Wednesday, keeping in place current, limited in-court activities and access.

Chief Justice Collins J. Seitz Jr. said in his order that the court system will delay moving into the third part of a four-phase reopening "until medical experts believe it is safe to do so and more information becomes available about the trends in COVID-19 infections and its spread in the United States and Delaware."

Court buildings were closed for routine public access March 16 when the chief justice made an initial emergency declaration. That 30-day order has been extended each month since.

The courts adopted a phased reopening plan June 5 and took a first and second step under that plan days later. Work continues on a third phase, including plans for a safe resumption of public jury trials.

Under the current, second phase of the plan, teleconferences and other remote, audiovisual alternatives will continue to be used extensively, with speedy trial guidelines modified and relaxation of requirements for oaths, affidavits or similar court filing obligations.

Also required is social distancing throughout court buildings and a 10-person limit on access to courtrooms and courtroom-related public areas. Noncourtroom facilities remain closed, and staffing will be limited to 50% of ordinary levels.

Plans for Phase 3 of the reopening call for increasing the staffing of court buildings to 75% and the opening of buildings and courtrooms to additional proceedings, with social distancing requirements still in place. Limits on group sizes will be increased to 50 people, allowing civil and criminal jury trials to resume. Incarcerated individuals will also again be permitted to attend court proceedings in person.

The final phase calls for a return to full operations, although the court's plan cautions that a "new normal" will apply, potentially including some safety practices from earlier phases and increased use of technologies adopted during earlier stages of the emergency. Full court staffing and use of court buildings will resume.

--Editing by Stephen Berg.

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