Employment Law Report

Judicial Branch Task Forces Reveal Re-Opening Guidelines

By Marianna Michael

After convening three task forces to determine what measures to take to gradually resume in-person court services, the Supreme Court released its reopening plan on May 15, 2020. The Court’s goal is to implement a limited, phased reopening to allow access to the courts while keeping court personnel and the public safe through social distancing and other precautions.

Starting June 1, 2020, the Court will implement the following measures:

  1. All civil and criminal court proceedings shall resume through telephonic and video technology to conduct all proceedings remotely. If a judge determines that a matter requires in-person attendance, the following health and safety precautions must be followed:
    • Courtroom attendance must be limited to attorneys, parties, witnesses, and other necessary persons as determined by the judge, but in no event can attendance exceed 33% of the courtroom’s occupancy capacity;
    • Individuals who fall into a high-risk category must be allowed to participate remotely;
    • Judges must ensure those in attendance practice appropriate social distancing;
    • If a proceeding is not confidential, members of the public and media must have access to view any courtroom proceeding through live audio or video or by digital recording;
    • The proceeding must be scheduled, so that the number of individuals entering, exiting, or gathering at a certain time is reduced; and
    • At the end of the proceeding or after each use, the judge shall ensure the microphones, tables, and other exposed surfaces are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected as provided by the Kentucky Court of Justice COVID-19 Health and Safety Requirements.
  2. Court orders requiring remote attendance of a party or the party’s counsel shall have the same effect as if requiring in-person attendance. Failure to appear remotely as ordered by a court may be grounds for sanctions.
  3. Attorneys should continue to prepare and litigate cases, including providing discovery, negotiating possible resolutions, filing motions, and conducting investigations, to minimize delay in bringing cases to trial or resolution to the extent possible.
  4. In-person services are strictly limited as follows:
    • Entrance to court facilities is limited to attorneys, parties, witnesses, persons ordered by the judge to appear at in-person hearings, and individuals seeking emergency protective orders, interpersonal protective orders, and emergency custody orders.
    • All filings must be mailed, eFiled, or conventionally filed using a drop-box provided outside the judicial facility.
    • Payments for court costs, fines, fees, and restitution can be made by money order mailed to the circuit clerk’s office or by cash or credit card by calling the local circuit clerk’s office. Pre-payable citations can be paid online through ePay at kycourts.gov.
    • Individuals posting bond should contact the local circuit clerk’s office for further instruction.
  5. Kentucky Court of Justice (“KCOJ”) offices are limited to 50% of their employees. All KCOJ employees who can telework should be directed to do so. KCOJ employee who are required to go to work must check their temperatures before going to work and must self-quarantine if they have COVID-19 symptoms or have come into contact with anyone exhibiting symptoms.
  6. All KCOJ facilities must post signage at all entry points advising individuals that they shall not enter or remain in the building unless they are wearing a protective facial covering, which covers the nose and mouth. If a member of the public seeks entry, but does not have an appropriate facial covering, then a facial covering will be provided.
  7. Individuals shall not enter the building if they have:
    • Experienced any symptoms of COVID-19;
    • Been asked to self-quarantine by any doctor, hospital, or health agency; or
    • Been diagnosed with COVID-19 within the past 14 days or had contact with anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 within the past 14 days.
  8. Individuals not permitted into KCOJ facilities, but still required to make payment or report to or appear before the court, will be provided with a phone number or email address and must make arrangements to reschedule, appear remotely, or otherwise complete their business to avoid possible adverse action being taken by the court.
  9. Individuals are prohibited from bringing purses or other similarly enclosed bags into court facilities, unless items in the bag are medically necessary. Items necessary for business before the court should be carried by hand or brought in an open container allowing visual inspection.
  10. Each chief circuit judge must take steps to ensure that KCOJ employees and members of the public exercise appropriate social distancing in any court facility occupied by the KCOJ within their circuit. The  Administrative Office of the Courts (“AOC”) Director or designee must take steps to ensure that AOC employees and members of the public exercise appropriate social distancing in all AOC offices, as well.
    • In mixed-use facilities, the chief circuit judge is responsible for ensuring appropriate social distancing practices in the space occupied by the KCOJ, including the common areas.
    • Any common area that cannot be configured to maintain appropriate social distancing must be closed.
    • To the extent possible, waiting lines or rooms should be eliminated through the use of appointments or other remote services. Areas should be demarked with six-foot spacing to maintain appropriate social distancing between individuals who are not members of the same household unit.
    • Each chief circuit judge and the AOC Director or designee must ensure that proper arrangements are made for cleaning and disinfecting of the court facilities in their circuit and all AOC offices, consistent with the KCOJ COVID-19 Health and Safety Requirements.

The Order encourages chief district and chief circuit judges to develop local plans and enter local court rules regarding any additional restrictions or changes in local procedure, consistent with the Order. The Order is effective beginning June 1, 2020 until further guidance is published. A full copy of the Order may be found here.