Louisiana is Preparing to Reopen for Business with Stay at Home Order Soon Expiring
As the Coronavirus pandemic enters another month, Louisiana is preparing to reopen for business in anticipation of the Stay at Home order expiring Friday, May 15, 2020. State, parish, municipal and federal courts have been operating at a reduced capacity since mid-March following a national emergency declaration over COVID-19.
That is about to change. The 24th Judicial District Court in Jefferson Parish is set to reopen to the public Monday, May 18 at 8 a.m. While criminal and civil jury trials have been suspended until July 1, the court will reopen under restrictions. And citizens will find a vastly different process.
I have talked to judges and other personnel at the courthouse in Gretna and this is what I have learned. Everyone must wear a mask. Social distancing will be followed. Only those people who are scheduled to be in court will be allowed inside. Each person will have his or her temperature taken before entering the building. No more than 10 people will be allowed in a courtroom and that includes the judge, clerks, attorneys and citizens.
As a criminal defense attorney, I will encourage my clients to waive their presence in court until necessary as the new rules permit me to do so. I will continue to use videoconferencing to represent clients as I have done while the courts have been closed.
Other measures spelled out in an Order issued by the court on April 29 include:
· If you had a court date between March 16 and May 15 when the courts were closed, report to the court in person before July 1, 2020 to receive a new court date from a clerk who will be located at the courthouse entrance.
- Those people “with notice to appear on or after May 18 should report on their scheduled court date only.’’
- People who do not have a mask will be given one “while supplies last.’’
- Elevators will be limited to 4 people.
- No standing or waiting in the hallways. Waiting will be allowed in attorney-client rooms and will be limited to two people per room.
The Order indicates that the court will continue its use of technology. For weeks, commissioners, judges and magistrates conducted first appearances, bond settings, arraignments and emergency
hearings using video and telephone conferencing. Those people being held in jail will continue to have matters heard utilizing video conferences.
Civil matters in the 24th Judicial District Court will be handled using video conferencing.
Also getting back to business are Jefferson’s First Parish Court and Second Parish Court operations. The two courts handle traffic offenses, misdemeanor crimes and small claims civil matters. Second Parish Court in an order dated April 29 said that cases set through May 15 were automatically rescheduled. In addition the court deferred installment payments scheduled through May 15 and recalled attachments through that date.
Meanwhile the Criminal District Court in New Orleans is phasing in its return to operations, according to an April 29 order. Attorneys and their clients are encouraged to check the court’s website www.criminalcourt.org before heading to court.
The Criminal District Court is also imposing guidelines similar to Jefferson for public access. Citizens should be prepared for a temperature check and questions about their health. When the courthouse reopens, only three sections of court will be in session daily Monday through Thursday. On Fridays, the building will be closed for cleaning, according to the order.
Under the current Phase One, no jury trials are being conducted and for the limited hearings, audio and video conferencing is being used. But court officials stress that Phase Two is “subject to change based on arising circumstances.”
Louisiana is reopening in phases, with Phase 1 expected to last until June 5, Gov. John Bel Edwards has announced. Several entities will be allowed to open to the public under a restricted capacity and those employees must wear masks. But the governor encouraged vulnerable citizens to stay at home if possible.