In response to the novel coronavirus disease 2019, the Missouri Supreme Court announced Monday it has suspended in-person proceedings in all appellate and circuit courts, including all associate, family, juvenile, municipal and probate divisions through April 3.
The order may be extended as circumstances warrant, court officials said in a news release.
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The court's order authorizes the presiding judges of each of the state's 46 judicial circuits and the chief judge of each of the three districts of the state's court of appeals to determine the manner in which the listed exceptions to in-person proceedings are to be conducted. It further gives the judges presiding over such proceedings discretion to excuse jurors or other individuals who cannot or should not appear as a result of risks associated with COVID-19.
The suspension of in-person proceedings is subject to the following exceptions:
Proceedings necessary to protect the constitutional rights of criminal defendants and juveniles.
Proceedings in which civil or criminal jury trials are already in progress as of March 16.
Proceedings pursuant to Chapter 455 pertaining to orders of protection.
Proceedings related to emergency child custody orders.
Proceedings related to petitions for temporary restraining orders or other forms of temporary injunctive relief.
Proceedings related to emergency mental health orders.
Proceedings pursuant to Chapter 475 for emergency guardianship or conservatorship.
Proceedings directly related to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Oral arguments regarding time-sensitive matters.
Other exceptions approved by the chief justice of the Supreme Court.
Monday's Supreme Court order does not affect a court's ability to consider or rule on any matter that does not require an in-person proceeding. It also does not affect required deadlines through Missouri's electronic filing system.
All judges and court clerks are encouraged to utilize all available technologies — including email, teleconferencing and video conferencing to further limit in-person courtroom appearances. Any local, criminal, or civil rules that would impede a court clerk or judge's ability to utilize such technologies are hereby suspended until April 3 and may be extended as circumstances may warrant.
"Despite the suspension of in-person court proceedings, Missouri courts still must continue to carry out the core, constitutional functions of the Missouri judiciary as prescribed by law and continue to uphold the constitutional rights of litigants seeking redress in any Missouri court," the order states. "Each courthouse should work with local law enforcement and county agencies to ensure that, to the extent possible, courthouses remain accessible to carry out essential constitutional functions and time-sensitive proceedings."
If it becomes necessary to close any courthouse during the suspension period, the Supreme Court order states, "the courthouse shall develop procedures for ensuring the court remains accessible by telephone and e-mail to the extent possible during regular business hours. The Supreme Court of Missouri should be notified immediately of the closing of any courthouse, and notice of such closings should be disseminated to the local media and posted on the courthouse doors."