Justice may be blind, but she still wants you to stand at least 6 feet away and cough into your sleeve at the courthouse.

Or better yet, stay away and communicate remotely via interactive video teleconferencing.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, Lorie S. Gildea, has issued a statewide order restricting in-person access to courthouses to certain types of cases, and opening up additional opportunities for remote hearings that need to be held.

The 30-day order goes into effect today, Monday, March 23, and may be extended after that if necessary.

And Becker County is one step ahead: The County Board last week agreed to spend about $9,000 on video conferencing equipment at the new county jail. That will allow inmates to connect with courtrooms remotely when feasible.

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“The jail is wired for this, but the equipment is not purchased at this time,” Sheriff Todd Glander told commissioners. The board approved the expenditure Tuesday, March 17, and hopes the county will be reimbursed later through state or federal disaster funding.

“We’ve already taken steps to reduce the flow of traffic at the jail and protect inmates and staff,” Glander said.

“Public safety will remain a priority for us,” Glander said. “We will continue to patrol Becker County and (maintain) the jail.”

Dispatchers now ask health-related questions on all 911 calls, with that information passed on to emergency responders on their way to the scene.

With worries about coronavirus, these are trying times, Glander said.

“It’s important that people stay calm and educated,” he said. “Public safety will remain a priority. We will patrol and respond to calls as always, and we’ll be taking steps to protect everybody’s health and safety.”

In Minnesota, district courts will remain open on a limited basis for in-person contact, and will continue to accept filings in all case types. Self-help services will be accessed by phone or email.

As much as possible, court cases will be held by ITV and other remote technology that enables the parties and attorneys to appear without being in the courtroom, and judges will review motions without oral argument, when feasible.

“We are committed to protecting the safety of all who must enter into a courthouse during this unprecedented time," Gildea said in the order. “The Minnesota Judicial Branch is where people access justice and defend their constitutional rights. The balancing of public health and access to justice during this time is testing our systems and procedures. The steps we announce today will help us maintain that delicate balance.”

Some criminal and juvenile cases will still be held in a courtroom, although the defendant and the attorneys may appear remotely, and victim impact information may be provided remotely.

Those hearings include bail review, Rule 8 hearings, omnibus hearings (that don’t require live testimony), plea hearings, sentencing hearings and probation revocation hearings (if testimony can be provided remotely.)

The same holds true for Juvenile Court detention review hearings, omnibus hearings, plea hearings, certification hearings, extended juvenile jurisdiction hearings and disposition hearings.

Juvenile protection proceedings can be held remotely, or will be conducted based on the presiding judge’s review of the written submissions -- except for emergency protective care hearings, which will be held in the courtroom. When possible, EPC hearings will be combined with any admit/deny hearing. Only the juveniles, their parent-participants, and their attorneys can attend.

In all housing/eviction matters, hearings will be in the courtroom on an emergency basis when there is a showing of individual or public health, or safety, at risk.

Hearings will be in the courtroom for any case type where there is an immediate liberty concern, or when public or personal safety concerns are paramount.

In-person hearings will adhere to Minnesota Department of Health social distancing guidance to limit the number of people and the proximity of people in a courtroom to the extent possible.

No new jurors called for 30 days

Always dreamed of being on a jury? This isn’t your day.

Jurors must follow the instructions on paper summons, but the Minnesota Judicial Branch will not be calling any additional jurors to courthouses for the next 30 days.

  • All jury trials underway as of March 13 should continue until the trial is complete, regardless of case type.

  • Grand juries that have been empaneled as of March 23 and are actively hearing a case will continue to hear the case.

  • No new jury trials or grand jury proceedings will start prior to April 22.

People with suspected or actual exposure to COVID-19 who are summoned to report for jury duty must contact the court to discuss rescheduling options for jury service.

Finally, there will be no access to public access terminals (courthouse terminals) or noncourtroom space in courthouses for the public or media. As part of Gildea's order, computer terminals where the public can access court records will be closed beginning today, March 23.

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