The Louisiana Supreme Court, in accordance with declarations by Governor John Bel Edwards and President Donald Trump, released two Orders in its continuing effort to reduce the number of new cases of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) by citizens, including judges and court staff. Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson said, “It is the Court’s responsibility to remain steadfast staving off newly contracted cases of the Coronavirus. In doing so, we yield to reasonable alternative methods to adhere to the constitutional rights of all citizens; both litigants and court staff to provide due process in an environment of safety to the public health of all.”
The first Order repeals and replaces the Supreme Court’s March 16, 2020, March 20, 2020 and March 23, 2020 Orders and advises on court proceedings and reads as follows:
Acting under the authority of Article V, Section 1 of Constitution of 1974, and the inherent power of this Court, and considering the continuing spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Louisiana, Governor John Bel Edwards’ declaration of public health emergencies in Proclamation Numbers 25 JBE 2020, 27 JBE 2020, 30 JBE 2020, 33 JBE 2020, and 41 JBE 2020, President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency on March 13, 2020, the Orders of this Court dated March 16, March 20, and March 23, 2020, and in consideration of ongoing public health recommendations to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus and slowing the spread of the disease while balancing the need to protect the constitutional rights and public safety of the citizens of the state by maintaining access to Louisiana courts,
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED THAT:
1. Prior Orders: This Order shall repeal and replace the Orders of this Court dated March 16, March 20, and March 23, 2020;
2. Jury Trials: All jury trials, both civil and criminal, scheduled to commence in any Louisiana state court between the date of this Order and May 1, 2020, are hereby continued to a date to be reset by local order no earlier than May 4, 2020.
3. In-person emergency matters only: Until at least May 4, 2020, courts may only conduct in-person proceedings to address emergency matters that cannot be resolved virtually. Courts must continue to take measures to limit access to courtrooms and other spaces, with absolute minimum physical contact, to practice social distancing and limit in-person court activity to only the emergency matters set forth in sections 4 and 5 below. As this situation is constantly changing, courts are further instructed to follow all guidelines issued by the Center for Disease Control, the President and the Governor, and to further limit access to courtroom and other spaces to the maximum number of people set forth in any future guideline or official proclamation that may be issued. All emergency matters should be conducted with the use of video and telephone conferencing whenever possible. Any court lacking the technological capabilities to implement this mandate shall notify the Judicial Administrator of the Louisiana Supreme Court so that accommodations can be made.
4. Criminal Matters: In criminal matters, the following matters are deemed emergency matters for purposes of section 3 above: criminal initial appearances for adults and juveniles, arraignments for incarcerated individuals, bond hearings, criminal protective orders and other emergency matters necessary to protect the health, safety and liberty of individuals as determined by each court.
5. Civil Matters: In civil matters, the following matters are deemed emergency matters for purposes of section 3 above: civil protective orders, child in need of care proceedings, emergency child custody matters, proceedings for children removed from their home by emergency court order, proceedings related to emergency interdictions and mental health orders, temporary restraining orders and injunctions, and matters of public health related to this crisis and other emergency matters necessary to protect the health, safety and liberty of individuals as determined by each court.
6. Remote Proceedings: This Order expressly does not prohibit any court proceedings by telephone, video, teleconferencing, or any other means that do not involve in-person contact with consent of all parties and the judge. This Order does not affect courts’ consideration of matters that can be resolved without in-person proceedings. This authority does not extend to any matters suspended by executive action by the Governor, including but not limited to evictions.
7. Speedy Trial Computations: Given the public health concerns and the necessity of taking action to slow the spread of the disease, the continuances occasioned by this Order serve the ends of justice and outweigh the best interest of the public and the defendant in a speedy trial. Therefore, the time periods of such continuance shall be excluded from speedy trial computations pursuant to law, including but not limited to those set forth in the Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure and the Louisiana Children’s Code, and presumptively constitute just cause.
8. Clerk’s Offices: Courts should work with parish clerks to encourage in-person filings of court pleadings to be replaced with filing by other means, such as U.S. mail, e-filing, email or facsimile. In all criminal, juvenile and civil matters handled on an emergency or expedited basis, a record shall be kept under the direction of the acting judge for each action.
The second Order amends a March 20, 2020 Louisiana Supreme Court Order regarding filing deadlines with the state’s high court, and states, “All filings which were or are due to this Court between Thursday, March 12, 2020 through Friday, May 1, 2020 shall be considered timely if filed no later than Monday, May 4, 2020. Parties who are unable to meet this deadline due to the COVID-19 emergency may submit motions for extensions of time, supported by appropriate documentation and argument.”