The Michigan Supreme Court is telling state courts to consider drastic steps to curb the spread of coronavirus.
One of those 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. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, which has courthouses in Detroit, Ann Arbor, Port Huron, Flint and Bay City, is requiring anyone entering the court to advise security officers if any of the following applies:
- Visited China, South Korea, Italy or Iran in the previous 14 days. The list may be updated based on further guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Resided with or been in close contact with someone who has been in any of those countries within the previous 14 days.
- Traveled domestically within the United States where COVID-19 has sustained widespread community transmission;
- Been asked to self-quarantine by any doctor, hospital or health agency;
- Been diagnosed with, or have had contact with, anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
- A fever, cough or shortness of breath.
Update: Updated 3/12/2020 at 8:25 p.m. to include information about actions taken by Third Circuit Court.