Minnesota Courts Shutdown During COVID-19, Effective March 23, 2020
After Minnesota Governor Tim Walz declared a peacetime emergency on March 13, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Minnesota Supreme Court issued an order on March 20, 2020 suspending most proceedings in District Court effective March 23, 2020. District Court is where most people ordinarily attend court hearings in their respective county courthouses, and those courts are now effectively closed. As the Governor issued further executive orders relating to the pandemic and extended the Stay at Home order to May 4, 2020, additional Supreme Court orders were issued on March 23, March 26 and April 9, 2020 clarifying some provisions of the original order from March 20. Those orders are available for review here on the Minnesota Courts website.
Minnesota Court Hearings
Although the courts are currently closed for most matters, hearings may be conducted in the courtroom for any case in which “the request for relief presents an immediate liberty concern, or when public or personal safety concerns are paramount.” Under this order, the District Courts continue to conduct bail hearings for adults and juveniles in custody on criminal charges to set bail and conditions of release from jail, but most other court proceedings remain suspended until at least May 4, 2020.
There are specific exceptions for some hearings to be held in a courtroom on an emergency basis, such as:
- housing/eviction matters when there is a showing of individual or public health or safety at risk;
- civil commitment,
- emergency change-of-custody requests in family law cases,
- civil commitments, normally for mental health and chemical dependency issues,
- guardianship matters,
- orders for protection, and
- garnishment exemption hearings.
Remote Court Appearances or Communications
Other than certain matters that require an in-person hearing, parties and attorneys may appear remotely (without being in the courtroom) in emergency proceedings by submitting arguments in writing, interactive television (ITV – the court’s version of video conferencing), telephone conference or other technological means. Judges are also authorized to conduct some proceedings based on written submissions of the parties. Most court filings are now conducted electronically, and the electronic filing system remains active. Public access to courtrooms is limited to the parties in the case who are participating in the hearing, attorneys who represent those parties, any necessary court staff, and other individuals the presiding judge determines are necessary to conduct the hearing.
Closure, Rescheduling and Differences by County
The Minnesota Courts have never been closed like this. Like many businesses in the private sector and other government agencies, most of the courthouse staff and many prosecutors are now working from home. Most court hearings set between March 23 and April 22 for people who are not in custody have already been cancelled or rescheduled. The rescheduling of those cases has not been handled the same in every county. In Hennepin County for example, many court hearings were rescheduled to later dates. But in Dakota County, many of the hearings that were cancelled have not yet been rescheduled. Court administrators across the state are now in the process of rescheduling most matters through at least May 4, 2020. If the current Minnesota Stay at Home order gets extended beyond May 4, 2020 and depending on how the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, it is entirely possible the closure of the courts will be extended even further – that remains to be seen.
Managing Your Case During the Governor’s Stay at Home Orders
The closure of the court system has created a great deal of difficulty and hardship for many people. There are many cases where people want to get their court restrictions changed so they can return home again, get off electronic monitoring systems, or otherwise get their cases resolved so they can move on with their lives. But when the courts are closed those people are not able to appear in court to get things changed, moving again or resolved. This is a very difficult situation for virtually all who are affected. I am continuing to monitor these developments as I keep all my clients fully informed. But out of concern for the danger of the COVID-19 virus and respect for the Governor’s Stay at Home orders, we must all be patient and endure the hardship of these unusual times as we all work through this together.
I encourage all who are affected to stay safe and do everything they can to remain well. We can then plan to get these pending court matters resolved in the future when the courts resume operating again.
Do you have questions about how the Minnesota Courts Shutdown affects your case?
If you need legal advice regarding a current case, or you have questions about how the Minnesota Courts Shutdown affects your situation, please contact me to get you the help you need. I can help. If you make the decision to work with me I will take good care of you and be with you every step of the way.
As an experienced Minnesota criminal defense attorney, Bill Sherry understands that legal problems don’t always happen during ordinary office hours. If you are facing a legal problem and need to talk with a lawyer right now, call Bill Sherry at 952-423-8423 for a free consultation.