The Corona virus is now a world pandemic. It has taken hold in South Korea, Iran, and is still expanding in China. It has by all appearances mutated into more and less lethal forms. Like it or not, it is coming to the United States.
We in South Florida are at one of the cross-roads of the world. We are a hub for South Americans and South American travel.
Are we prepared? Does Trump respect the CIA and Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer?
Are the chief judges in Federal and State Court prepared to shut down the court system or modify it so that most of the public does not need to stream into the buildings, only to be shuttled into small, cramped, virus spreading incubators called elevators, jury rooms, and small courtrooms?
We haven't seen any plans, so we will suggest some.
Criminal Court: Suspend all misdemeanor trials. Starting NOW put additional resources to move the cases where people are incarcerated on misdemeanors. With all due respect to our misdemeanor judges, they are after all misdemeanors. Most people should not be in custody for petit theft or disorderly conduct or possession of an undersized Snook, so lets get them out.
Second, prepare for Video Conferencing. Have judges create separate video calendars for defense attorneys who can call in from home or office to appear on cases.
Have judges create sperate video conferencing calendars for unrepresented defendants so cases can be resolved or reset. No bench warrants will be issued.
Civil Court: We care about civil court even less than we like it, which isn't saying much. But no civil case is worth spreading a virus. Judges have some type of infamous proceeding called five minute calendars so motions to strike interrogatories and the like can be adjudicated. Face time it. Video conferencing. Let's drag our courts and judges technologically into the 2000's, even if its kicking and banging their gavels. Upgrade their 386 modems so they can stream video.
Courts are one area where people do not need to congregate. Trials should be suspended- jury rooms are incubators of germs. Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus during the civil war. Judge Soto can be Lincolesque and suspend speedy trial and civil time limits until the virus threat passes. Or she can ask the Chief Judge of the Florida Supreme Court to put aside their research in overruling Gideon v. Wainwright and Roe v. Wade and sign the order suspending time limits.
The point is that none of these things need to happen now. But we need to be prepared. Judge Soto and her 627 administrative judges need to create and issue plans, disseminate them using their mimeograph machines to the legal community and the public, so that- and here's hoping it never happens- when the time comes, we are ready mentally and physically to practice law a different way for a few weeks. Spring is coming and the virus will not survive in warmer weather.
Judges always sneer at lawyers who are not prepared. The door swings both ways.
Get cooking your honors.
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