On March 27, the Supreme Court of Ohio and Gov. Mike DeWine issued orders tolling all pending civil, criminal and administrative matters across the state in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In other words, while cases are traditionally subjected to court-mandated timelines to ensure efficiency, the Supreme Court and governor agreed to hit the pause button on pending litigation and allow courts to halt their activity.
But, on July 30, the tolling orders expired without extension. Unsurprisingly, the question clients are posing to their attorneys at the moment across the state is some variation of “what now?”
The first thing clients and potential litigants should know is that while courtroom procedures vary from county to county and from court to court, physical appearances in court are all but nonexistent at this time. Locally, all Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court divisions are conducting pretrials, attorney conferences and even bench trials via Zoom or teleconference.
Further, clerk of court offices in the area have almost universally begun encouraging pleadings, motions and other court filings be submitted via electronic transmission. Filing fees, court deposits and even the fines and costs that may result from your Zoom trial that traditionally would have been paid at a cashier’s window are now being invoiced via email.
While courts have implemented procedures to continue operating throughout the pandemic, the one remaining issue that has not been resolved to date is how to safely conduct a jury trial. Originally, jury trials were set to resume in the general division of Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas on Aug. 10, but judges in Cuyahoga County voted to suspend commencement of jury trials until late September. It seems that the difficulty of compiling a jury of your peers in a courtroom while adhering to social distancing guidelines still presents a problem for most courts.
But what should you expect if you are required to cross a courthouse threshold? First, a security officer or sheriff’s deputy will likely begin by verifying that you are on the approved entrance list. Many courts have implemented a procedure where you may be required to remain in your vehicles until your hearing is called to session. Assuming you are admitted, be prepared to have your temperature taken at the door and to be required to wear a mask at all times. Once you enter a courtroom, you are likely to find designated seats where patrons are permitted to sit while maintaining the appropriate distancing. Further, many courts have used the time in which they were closed to the public to retrofit courtrooms and clerk offices with Plexiglas limiting person-to-person contact where possible.
It is important to understand that procedures and protocols at this time are specific to individual courts and are being continuously updated. Please contact your court directly or visit its website for the most up-to-date regulations prior to your court date. Court may be back in session, but the new normal seems to be changing daily.
This article originally appeared as a column for the Cleveland Jewish News.