Editor’s note: The Texas Supreme Court issued the following advisory on March 5.
In the 36th emergency order issued Friday responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Texas Supreme Court has removed requirements that all but certain proceedings be remote but encourages remote trials and hearings and gives local presiding judges authority to require masks for participants and imposing physical distances for in-person proceedings.
The order also lifts the prohibition on in-person municipal and justice court proceedings but now allows those courts to hold proceedings by electronic means. It retains courts’ authority to “modify or suspend any and all deadlines and procedures” through June 1.
Three justices dissented to the order. The order expires June 1 unless extended by the chief justice.
The order specifies that, if requested and good cause is shown by a court participant other than a juror, a court must permit the participant to participate remotely in any proceeding, subject to constitutional limitations.
Courts of appeals may conduct in-person proceedings if the chief justice of each court adopts minimum standard health protocols for court participants and the public that will be employed in the courtroom and in public areas of the court building.
For the remaining causes on its 2020-21 docket, the Supreme Court will continue to conduct arguments by Zoom.
All other courts may also conduct in-person proceedings, including both jury and non-jury proceedings, if the local administrative district judge or presiding judge of a municipal court, as applicable, adopts in consultation with the judges in the county or municipal court buildings minimum standard health protocols for court proceedings and the public attending court proceedings. Those measures should be employed in all courtrooms and throughout all public areas of the court buildings, including masking, social distancing, or both.
Courts must establish communication protocols to ensure that no court participants have tested positive for COVID-19 within the previous 10 days, have had symptoms of COVID-19 within the previous 10 days, or have had recent known exposure to COVID-19 within the previous 14 days. Jury summonses will inquire about any such symptoms or exposure.
The Office of Court Administration should issue updated best practices to assist courts on safely conducting in-person and remote court proceedings.
Questions about the emergency order also may be addressed to email@example.com.