Federal Courts Plot Out How They’ll Decide To Reopen

The federal courts will rely on data from public health officials to gauge the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic in their individual jurisdictions and determine how quickly to restore operations, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts said in guidelines issued Monday.

Courts should follow a four-phase process for returning operations to how they were before the novel coronavirus tore through the U.S. and upended life, the federal agency said, advising courts to use data from state and local officials and from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in deciding whether to gradually reopen or to leave things as they are.

In the first phase laid out in the guidelines, courthouses are closed to the public, most employees are working remotely and most proceedings are postponed. In the second phase, additional court filings and proceedings may occur, and people not considered particularly vulnerable to the disease may physically return to work. In the third phase, courtrooms reopen and additional employees return to the office while individuals observe social distancing, wear masks and take other precautionary measures. And in the final phase, court operations return to “normal,” the agency said.

A group of chief judges and court executives are expected to develop protocols for how grand jury and trial jury proceedings can resume, the agency said.

“Issues such as testing potential jurors, social distancing considerations during jury assembly, voir dire, jury deliberations and many others are being considered,” James C. Duff, the agency’s director, said in a statement Monday.

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