Unanimous MSC order authorizes courts to take emergency measures re COVID-19

“After spending my entire career urging courts to be more open and accessible and of helping people to get their day in court, limiting access to courts is something I never thought would be on my agenda. But it is. Michigan courts must act to help meet the challenge of this truly profound public health crisis. That’s why my colleagues and I unanimously approved an order that provides the authority and direction for the courts of our state to take every measure necessary to protect the public.”

So says Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget M. McCormack on a YouTube video introducing the unanimously-passed order (ADM File No. 2020-08 Administrative Order No. 2020-1) to authorize trial courts “to implement emergency measures to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus and provide the greatest protection possible to those who work and have business in our courts.” Based on recommendations from Chief Justice McCormack early last week, courts statewide have already implemented a wide range of steps to reduce risk, protect the public, and maintain operations; this order allows courts to take further measures subject to constitutional and statutory limitations.

“This order provides authority and direction for the courts of Michigan to take every measure necessary to protect the public,” she said in a statement. “The message is simple: Emergency action to protect the public shall take precedence over normal operating procedures. I am proud that our state judiciary has already begun to take such action. But present circumstances require continued vigilance. We will continue to work to protect the public, while ensuring fairness to those involved in judicial proceedings.”

The order includes a wide range of emergency measures, including:

1. Trial courts may adjourn any civil matters and any criminal matters where the defendant is not in custody; where a criminal defendant is in custody, trial courts should expand use of videoconferencing when the defendant consents;

2. In civil cases, trial courts should maximize the use of technology to enable and/or require parties to participate remotely. Any fees currently charged to allow parties to participate remotely should be waived;

3. Trial courts may reduce the number of cases set to be heard at any given time to limit the number of people gathered in entranceways, lobbies, corridors, or courtrooms;

4. Trial courts should maximize the use of technology to facilitate electronic filing and service to reduce the need for in-person filing and service; 

5. Trial courts should, wherever possible, waive strict adherence to any adjournment rules or policies and administrative and procedural time requirements;

6. Trial courts should coordinate with the local probation departments to allow for discretion in the monitoring of probationers’ ability to comply with conditions without the need for amended orders of probation; 

7. Trial courts should take any other reasonable measures to avoid exposing participants in court proceedings, court employees, and the general public to the  COVID-19 virus;

8. In addition to giving consideration to other obligations imposed by law, trial courts are urged to take into careful consideration public health factors arising out of the present state of emergency: a) in making pretrial release decisions, including in determining any conditions of release, b) in determining any conditions of probation; and,

9. If a Chief Judge or the court’s funding unit decides to close the court building to the public, the Chief Judge shall provide SCAO with the court’s plan to continue to provide critical services, including handling emergency matters.

Effective until April 3, or as provided by a subsequent order.

Courts in Kent County are issuing announcements aligned with the MSC?guidelines.


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