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Kentucky Supreme Court Announces Plan to Gradually Resume In-Person Court Services and Provides Guidance on Jury Trials

May 29, 2020

By
Briana N. Lathon
Attorney, Stoll Keenon Ogden PLLC
(502) 568-5723
briana.lathon@skofirm.com

The week of May 18 – 22, 2020, the Kentucky Supreme Court and its three COVID-19 Judicial Branch task forces announced the plan to resume in-person court services and jury trials. Effective June 15, 2020, in-person court services can resume, and jury trials can be rescheduled for a date after August 1, 2020. According to Chief Justice of Kentucky John D. Minton Jr., the reopening plan “implements a limited, phased reopening and will allow greater access to the courts while keeping court personnel and the public safe through social distancing and other precautions.” To the extent possible and consistent with social distancing practices, the Kentucky Supreme Court is encouraging attorneys to continue to prepare and litigate cases during the effective dates of the reopening orders, including providing discovery, negotiating possible resolutions, filing motions, and conducting investigations, to minimize delay in bringing cases to trial or resolution. Complete details can be found in Supreme Court Administrative Order 2020-39 and Administrative Order 2020-40. Highlights of the reopening orders are below:

What Operations are Open?

Hearings and Jury Trials:
Courts may resume hearing all civil and criminal matter, however, remote hearings are still encouraged, unless the judge determine that an in-person hearing is necessary. If a matter requires an in-person hearing, several safety precautions must be observed, including limiting courtroom capacity, social distancing, facial coverings and frequent disinfecting of public spaces. Additionally, the following steps must be taken/adhered to:

• Courtroom attendance for the matter being heard must be limited to attorneys, parties, witnesses, and other necessary persons as determined by the judge but in no event can attendance exceed 33 percent of the courtroom’s occupancy capacity.
• Individuals who fall into a high-risk category1 must be allowed to participate remotely.
• Orders requiring remote attendance of a party or his counsel shall have the same effect as if requiring in-person attendance.
• Judges must take steps to ensure appropriate social distancing by those in attendance.
• The proceeding must be scheduled so that it reduces the number of individuals entering, exiting, or gathering at a certain time; 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 KCOJ COVID-19 Health and Safety Requirements.

Filing and Payment:

• 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.

Grand Juries and Jury Panels:

• Grand jury proceedings may begin effective June 15, 2020.
• Cases where the 60-day period in RCr 5.22(3) or an extension thereof was tolled by operation of Administrative Order 2020-28 must be presented to the grand jury on or before July 30, 2020.
• Existing grand jury panels may be extended at the discretion of the court, subject to the 20-day limitation set out in AP Part II, Sec. 19(3).
• If an existing grand jury panel cannot be extended, the order provides guidance on how to orient a new jury panel Complete Guidance Can be found here.
• Jury panels shall be subdivided into smaller groups so that there is six feet distance between all jurors in the designated juror orientation area at all times.
• Jurors who are ill, caring for someone who is ill, in a high-risk category, unable to wear a facial covering, or who will suffer further economic loss as a result of jury service shall have their service postponed or excused
• Strict health and safety requirements – including mandatory use of facial coverings by jurors, social distancing and disinfecting – must be followed for all grand jury proceedings.

General Health and Safety Requirements

Restrictions on in-person services:

• Several safety precautions must be observed, including limiting courtroom capacity, social distancing, facial coverings and frequent disinfecting of public spaces. See KCOJ Safety Requirements.
• Staffing will be limited to 50 percent, unless an exception is granted by the Department of Human Resources.

Entrances and exits:

• Entrance to court facilities is limited to individuals with a scheduled in-person hearing and those filing emergency protective orders, interpersonal protective orders and emergency custody orders. Arrows and other floor markings will be used to guide court traffic.

PPE and other safety measures:

• All Kentucky Court of Justice officials and employees and all members of the public entering a court facility must wear a facial covering.
• Members of the public are prohibited from bringing purses or similarly enclosed bags into court facilities, unless items in the bags are medically necessary.

The Supreme Court will issue specific guidance on driver’s license services and certain court matters, such as evictions and jury service, in the coming days. You can find ongoing court updates on the COVID-19 pandemic on the Court’s webpage.

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Please also be sure to check out the Stoll Keenon Ogden Coronavirus Resource webpage for additional articles and information related to the latest information on new laws and directives enacted by federal, state, and local governments in response to the Coronavirus pandemic.