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Florida Supreme Court issues new Administrative Order No. AOSC20-23 governing Covid-19 measures in Florida Trial Court

On March 9, 2021, the Florida Supreme Court issued Administrative Order No. AOSC20-23, “Comprehensive Covid-19 Emergency Measures for Florida Trial Courts,” the latest pronouncement by the Florida Supreme Court on the evolving trial court procedures to address the Covid-19 epidemic. Previous orders from the Court have established a four-phase process for gradually resuming normal court operations on a county-by-county basis, with the chief judge of a circuit authorized to determine whether the circuit of a county within the circuit has transitioned to the next phase. During Phase 1, in-person contact is inadvisable, court facilities are effectively closed to the public, and in-person proceedings are rare; in Phase 2, in-person contact is authorized for certain purposes but requires use of protective measures; in Phase 3, an effective vaccine is adequately available and in use and in-person contact is more broadly authorized; and in Phase 4, COVID-19 no longer presents a significant risk to public health and safety and normal court operations may resume. The Order provides that civil jury selection and trial proceedings in a circuit or county shall remain suspended until 30 days after the chief judge of the judicial circuit has determined that the circuit or a county within the circuit has transitioned to Phase 2. However, a judicial circuit may remotely conduct civil jury trials if all parties consent to participating in the remote trial. To conduct any portion of a remote jury trial in person, the chief judge, in consultation with the county health department or local health expert, must determine that (1) the in-person proceeding can be conducted in a manner that protects the health and safety of all participants if the circuit or a county within the circuit is operating in Phase 1; or (2) the circuit or a county within the circuit must be operating in Phase 2 or Phase 3 and the proceeding must be conducted in a manner that is consistent with the circuit’s operational plan. Order No. AOSC20-23 requires that each Circuit’s Chief Judge shall issue an administrative order applicable to each county within the judicial circuit, that takes effect on April 30, 2021, and that requires the presiding judge for each civil case to actively manage civil cases by reviewing each civil case and determining whether it is “complex”, streamlined” or “general.” “Complex” civil cases are actions that have been or may be designated by court order as complex under Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.201. “Streamlined” civil cases shall be identified based on criteria determined by the chief judge and specified in the administrative order, with suggested criteria being whether the case involves: few parties; non-complex issues related to liability and damages; few anticipated pretrial motions; limited need for discovery; few witnesses; minimal documentary evidence; and an anticipated trial length of less than two days. “General” civil cases are all other civil cases. With respect to streamlined and general civil cases, the presiding judge must issue a case management order for each streamlined and general civil case, which must be issued within 30 days after the service of the complaint for all cases filed on or after April 30, 2021, and for all other cases by the later to occur of 30 days after the service of the complaint or May 28, 2021. The case management order is required to address discovery and motions deadlines and specify a projected trial date.

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