The Michigan Supreme Court is telling state courts to consider drastic steps to curb the spread of coronavirus. And some of those courts, along with some federal courts, have done so already.
One of those recommended steps: suspending most civil and criminal jury trials until the threat from the pandemic ebbs.
“It is irresponsible of us to be calling in hundreds of jurors and putting them in a small room together at this time,” said Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget McCormack, who was a guest on Michigan Radio’s Stateside on Thursday.
McCormack says courts will have to use their best judgment about which cases to adjourn and which to proceed with. “There are cases that must be heard because critical public safety questions are at stake,” she said. “And there are cases that can wait.”
McCormack is also advising courts to adjourn hearings for the most at-risk individuals, such as people over 60 or those with health conditions.
And she said all Michigan courts are equipped with video-conferencing capabilities, and should take advantage of that to conduct remote hearings as much as possible.
These recommendations are not a directive. Ultimately, decisions will be up to local court administrators.
The Third Circuit Court in Wayne County reacted quickly. According to a memo sent by Chief Judge Timothy Kenny on Thursday, the court will adjourn all non-in-custody criminal jury trials (where a defendant is out on bond) and civil trials until March 30th.
Judges were also instructed to conduct remote hearings whenever possible; adjourn hearings for ill or medically vulnerable persons; and adjourn trials where anyone involved is ill or shows signs of illness.
Federal courts are taking action to curb the spread of coronavirus as well. Judge Denise Page Hood is chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, which has courthouses in Detroit, Ann Arbor, Port Huron, Flint and Bay City. Hood issued the following orders on Friday:
- All criminal and civil matters scheduled for in-court appearances are postponed until further notice.
- Grand jury proceedings are postponed until further notice.
- Naturalization ceremonies are cancelled.
Courts in Macomb and Kent counties also announced similar measures on Friday.
Update: Updated 3/12/2020 at 8:25 p.m. to include information about actions taken by Third Circuit Court.
Update: Updated 3/13/2020 at 1:17 p.m. to include further steps taken by federal district courts and others.