BOISE — District courthouses will begin reopening to general public on May 1 with social distancing measures in place. Many hearings will still be held virtually, and civil and criminal jury trials won’t pick back up until later this year, according to an April 22 order from the Idaho Supreme Court.
The courthouse reopenings coincide with the first phase of Gov. Brad Little’s four-stage plan to start reopening the economy. Federal courthouses in Idaho will remain closed through May 11, according to an April 16 U.S. District Court order.
The Idaho Supreme Court’s order outlines requirements to keep large numbers of people away from each other within the high-traffic facilities, and offers guidance for future legal actions such as trials and in-person hearings. People will be required to wear face masks in court, maintain appropriate social distance and follow restrictions on the number of people able to gather together, according to the order.
People who have COVID-19 symptoms or have been required to self-isolate for any reason are not allowed to enter courthouses, according to the order. Those folks are advised to stay home and get in touch with their local court clerk to determine next steps. However, if a person with COVID-19 symptoms or under a self-isolation order does enter a courthouse their offense, “may be dealt with through contempt proceedings,” the order says.
The order sets personnel standards for courthouse security, will pause jury trials for criminal matters until Aug. 3 and civil matters until Oct. 5. Some trials will have to take place in person, including those where parental rights are at stake or in criminal cases where a life sentence is possible, according to the new rules.
All other court proceedings will be “presumptively” held remotely through video conferencing software such as Zoom. The Idaho Supreme Court is suspending all rules stopping cases from proceeding remotely and is requiring audio recordings to be made of every court proceeding. Court reporters, the people taking a written record of court hearings and trials, are now able to type remotely.
Judges are still allowed to order a court proceeding must be held in person or postponed “because of the court’s needs or to prevent undue prejudice to a party,” according to the Supreme Court order. And the public is allowed to access proceedings as well, but allowing them to listen to the proceedings is still determined by the judge.
Courthouses will be required to have easily accessible hand sanitizing stations with bleach wipes, hand sanitizer or handwashing is available for people engaging in a court proceeding, as well as providing those people the ability to remain at least six feet apart from people not living in their household.