The Alabama Supreme Court has given the state’s judicial districts the approval to resume some in-person court hearings if they can do so safely but will continue to postpone jury trials until at least Sept. 14.
In an administrative order on Wednesday, justices gave the presiding judge in each of Alabama’s 41 judicial circuits the authorizations to resume in-person hearings in circuit, district, juvenile and municipal courts after Friday, May 15. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most proceedings have been postponed or conducted electronically for more than two months.
“For the purposes of determining whether to recommence in-person court hearings, the Presiding Circuit Judge is granted authority to make decisions regarding the safety and welfare of all court personnel in all courts within the circuit,” the order reads.
The order also specifically authorized the presiding judge in each circuit to develop and adopt procedures that will meet the recommendations and requirements of the “Safer at Home Order” implemented by Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on May 1 and then amended on May 8.
The “Safer at Home” order recommends continuing social distancing practices such as maintaining 6 feet of separation between individuals and wearing a mask when possible. The order from the supreme court today leaves the presiding judge in charge of determining how to implement those recommendations.
The high court instructed each presiding judge to work with other judges in the circuit, county officials, their respective circuit’s clerk as well as law enforcement, prosecutors and public defenders to identify practices that can “protect court employees and other individuals accessing all courts within the circuit.”
However, the order does allow each circuit to extend restrictions on in-person proceedings if they feel that is necessary in their particular area. Any restrictions on in-person hearings past May 15 have to be issued through a judicial order submitted to Chief Justice Tom Parker and can’t extend beyond Aug. 15.
A source familiar with the 13th Judicial Circuit’s plans told Lagniappe that Mobile County courts will not be resuming in-person proceedings at this time. Presiding Judge John Lockett is expected to issue an order sometime soon that will layout the circuit’s plans going forward.
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