As of June 1, 2020, the Minnesota Courts are re-opening – in stages. Matters that can be handled by phone or video conferences are being scheduled, but the courts’ caseload is reduced. That creates a backlog.
The courts, state-wide, have identified priority cases that can proceed live, in court, using social distancing precautions. Generally, the priority cases are in-custody criminal cases, child endangerment cases and domestic violence cases.
Over the summer, the courts will move toward more in-court live hearings, but there is no exact timeframe. A major concern is that most courtrooms are too small or have the wrong configuration to maintain at least six feet distance for all present. This is especially challenging for jury trials. In many courtrooms the jury box where jurors sit, and the jury deliberation rooms, cannot fit a 12-person criminal jury, or even a 7 person civil jury. The courts are looking for alternate space, but that is complicated by security and budget concerns.
Clients with pending civil cases have met delays. Jury trials and hearings have been postponed. The Chief Justice has announced there will be no civil jury trials until at least September 1, 2020. Other trials will be on a “pilot program” and so schedules are uncertain.
Depositions and mediations are disrupted. Depositions are a “higher risk” activity in that they usually involve at least four people in an enclosed conference room, usually for hours. Most depositions have gone forward by phone or using video conferencing like Zoom. Expect that to continue for as long as social distancing is recommended.
In short, expect disruptions and delays. At Klampe Law Firm, we are committed to advancing our cases despite Covid-19 obstacles. There is generally good cooperation with the courts and opposing firms, finding ways to advance and resolve legal disputes. But for those cases which require time in court, there will likely be delays through all of 2020, and probably beyond.