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Law360 (July 6, 2020, 1:11 PM EDT) -- Delaware's chief justice on Monday extended current tight limits on public court access by at least another 30 days, three weeks after approving the second step in a four-phase relaxation of statewide restrictions put in place March 16 under a COVID-19 judicial state of emergency.
Left in place for now under the order by Chief Justice Collins J. Seitz Jr. are requirements for social distancing throughout court buildings and a 10-person limit on access to courtrooms and courtroom-related public areas. Noncourtroom facilities remain closed, while staffing will be limited to 50% of ordinary levels.
Although heavy use of video, teleconference and other alternatives will continue, nonjury civil and criminal trials and civil hearings that do not require witness or client participation are permitted.
"The COVID-19 outbreak remains a real threat to the health and safety of all Delawareans. The virus continues to spread in other states at an alarming level," Chief Justice Seitz said in an announcement of the decision issued by the court.
"Given the continuing uncertainty about the progress of the virus in Delaware and around the country, we will continue for at least another month, and probably longer, under Phase Two of our reopening plan to reduce the risk of exposure to our employees, attorneys, litigants and the public at large at court facilities," the justice said.
State Supreme Court oral arguments resumed under the second phase of the reopening, put into effect June 15.
Plans for the next phase 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 justice's order Monday noted that although the reopening plan developed by a court reopening committee had progressed successfully to date, the potential risks involved call for reopening at a pace that will "reduce the risk that COVID-19 poses to jurors, parties, witnesses, lawyers, judges and court staff who enter state court buildings."
Next steps will be guided by the assessments of medical experts regarding state and national COVID-19 trends, the chief justice's order said, with the current extension prompted by "the concerning national trend of increasing virus spread, new quarantine requirements by other states and hotspots within our state."
--Editing by Gemma Horowitz.
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