Are the courts in Vermont open?

  • Yes, Vermont’s courts are open, but they are operating differently than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic began. For example, while criminal jury trials are now resuming, civil jury trials will not begin until January 1, 2021.  Many court hearings continue to beheld online or over the phone.
  • You will have to go through a health screening before you are allowed to enter a courthouse.  Once in a courthouse, you must wear a mask or face covering and stay at least six feet away from other people.
  • These and other guidelines help keep you and court staff safe.  The Judiciary may change these policies over time.  These changes will be based on guidance from the Vermont Health Department.  

Where can I get information about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the courts?

  • This webpage will be updated with the latest information about COVID-19 and court operations.

Where can I get information about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on my case?

  • If you have a question about your case you should check with your attorney or call the Judiciary’s Information Center  at 802-652-1900.
What to Know Before Coming to Court

Can I come to court?

  • You can come to court if you are a party to a case that has been set for a hearing.
  • You can also come to court if you if you need to be there as part of a hearing and you are a witnesses, lawyer or legal staff, a guardian ad litem, an interpreter, a communications specialist, or a qualified mental health professional.
  • If you are part of a relief-from-abuse (RFA) or civil stalking case, you can bring one support person.  This support person can be a domestic-violence advocate, a family member, or a friend.
  • You can come to court to observe a hearing if you are a media member and you had a permanent or one-time registration prior to the Supreme Court’s March 16 Declaration of a Judicial Emergency.  The Judiciary will not act on any applications for one-time registrations while the Supreme Court’s Emergency Declaration is in effect.

What do I need to know before I come to court?

  • Do not come to court if you are sick.
  • A court security officer will screen you before you can enter the courthouse.  The officer will ask you COVID-19-related health questions.  Your answers will help court staff determine whether it is safe for you to enter the building.
  • If you are not allowed to enter the courthouse you will be given the telephone number of the clerk’s office.  If you have an attorney, you should call your attorney.  If you do not have an attorney you should call the clerk’s office as soon as possible.  The clerk’s office will review your situation with the judge in your case.  The judge may allow you to have a hearing online or by phone.
  • You must wear a face covering or a mask at all times while you are in the courthouse.  Your face covering or mask must cover your mouth and nose.  If you do not have your own face covering or mask, the court security officer will give you a cloth mask.
  • Children under two are not required to wear a face covering or mask.
  • If you cannot wear a face covering or mask for a medical reason, you must bring a note from a doctor and show it when you are screened.
  • You must keep six feet away from other people while in the courthouse.
  • You may see signs telling you to stand or sit in specific locations or to walk in a specific direction.
  • You may be asked to leave the courthouse if you do not wear your mask.  You may also be asked to leave the courthouse if you do not keep six feet away from other people.  If you leave court before your hearing is over and you have an attorney you should call your attorney.  If you do not have an attorney you should call the clerk’s office as soon as possible.  The clerk’s office will review your situation with the judge in your case. The judge may allow you to join the hearing online or by phone.     

What safety measures are in place to keep visitors to the courthouse safe?

  • Courts are being cleaned regularly.  Cleaning practices are based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and the Vermont Health Department.
  • Screening equipment is being cleaned every hour and the inside areas of courthouses are being cleaned at least once a day.
  • Hand sanitizer and disinfecting supplies are available at customer service counters, public access terminals, and in courtrooms.  You can use these items to clean areas of the courtroom where you sit or wait.
  • Please use the public restrooms to wash your hands often.
  • Plexiglass or glass partitions are being installed at customer service counters.
  • Judges and court staff are required to wear masks, and you may see some staff wearing face shields for additional protection.
Where to Find Forms, How to File Documents, and How to Request Court Records

Where can I find court forms?

  • You can find court forms on the Court Forms webpage.
  • Paper forms are also available at the screening station in each courthouse.
  • If you have a question about which form to use you should contact the clerk’s office. Phone numbers for the clerks are available on the Court Locations webpage.  

How can I file documents?

  • You may file your document electronically
    • If you are required to e-file in eCabinet or Odyssey, you must use these online systems.  This requirement applies mostly to lawyers.
    • If you are someone without an attorney and your case is in Windham, Windsor, or Orange county, you can use these systems if you want to, but you do not have to.
    • To learn more about e-filing go to the Electronic Filing webpage.
  • If you are not required to e-file using these online systems, you can e-mail your filings to the court.  Email addresses for the courts are on the Court Locations webpage.
    • If you email a filing:
      • You must attach your filing(s) to your email and send the email to the court where the case is being heard.
      • You must include the docket number of the case and the division where the case is being heard (for example, “Family Division,” “Criminal Division,” “Civil Division,”) in the subject line of your email.
      • You must include a signature on your filing.  The signature can include your typed name with an /s/ in front of it (for example, /s/ Jane Doe).  An electronic version or scanned copy of your signature is also permitted.
      • Other types of signatures are also allowed.  If you have questions about what signature to use in an email filing you should contact the Judiciary’s Information Center at 802-652-1900.
  • You can place your paper filing in the court’s drop box.  There is a drop box located at the entrance of each courthouse.
  • You can mail your filing directly to the court.  Mailing addresses for the courts are available on the Court Locations webpage.

I need to file a Relief from Abuse (RFA) petition. What can I do?

  • If you need an RFA after regular court hours you should call the court’s RFA hotline at 1-800-540-9990.
  • If you are filing an RFA during regular court hours see the FAQ called “How can I file documents?”
  • For any RFA, you may also want to call the statewide domestic violence hotline at 1-800-228-7395 for additional support.

I am a landlord seeking to file foreclosure actions or eviction actions for nonpayment of rent. What do I need to know?

  • The Court has established special pleading requirements for eviction and foreclosure proceedings potentially affected by the federal CARES Act, Pub. L. No. 116-136. That Act sets forth specific requirements for properties financed by federally backed loans or participating in certain federal housing programs when they are the subject of an eviction for nonpayment or a foreclosure action.

  • In any eviction action of a tenant in residential housing commenced on or after March 27, 2020, the plaintiff must attach to the complaint a certificate that either the Act does not apply to the leased property or that the plaintiff has complied with the applicable provisions of the Act.

  • Similarly, in actions for residential foreclosure filed between March 27, 2020, and December 31, 2020, the plaintiff must certify compliance with applicable provisions of the CARES Act.

  • The Court has taken these measures because in both eviction and foreclosure proceedings, the court must be informed as to whether the CARES Act applies. The information necessary to make that determination is not readily accessible to the individual tenant or homeowner. Plaintiff landlords and lenders have both the need for this information in their operations and the capacity to acquire and present it with relatively little effort. Forms for the certification are provided below as Appendix A and Appendix B. The certifications must be substantially in this form.

 

Can I get court records if I can’t enter the courthouse?

  • Yes. The first step is to complete the Request for Access to Court Records form. You can then email the form to the court, mail it to the court, or deposit it at the court’s drop box. A link to the form is here:
  • Email addresses for the courts can be found on the Court Locations webpage.
  • The court will fill your request as soon as reasonably possible. (As part of its Declaration of a Judicial Emergency the Supreme Court has relaxed the deadlines that apply to responding to requests for records.)
Participating in Remote Hearings

Many court hearings are now being held remotely because of COVID-19. That means some or all of the people participate by video or phone, including judges and attorneys. Please visit this page for tips and frequently asked questions to learn how to prepare for a remote hearing.

Frequently Asked Questions About Jury Service During COVID-19

Are the Vermont Courts conducting jury trials during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Yes. While jury trials were suspended during the first months of the pandemic, the Vermont Superior Courts are resuming jury trials for criminal trials at this time. Jury trials for civil cases are set to resume January 1.

Why have jury trials resumed?

The right to a trial by jury is guaranteed by our constitution and is an important part of our democracy. Criminal defendants have a right to a fair and speedy trial by jury. Some are being detained while awaiting trial and are anxious for their day in court. When a defendant pleads not guilty, it is the state’s responsibility to make its case.

Why do jury trials need to be in person, rather than virtual?

While some court matters can be (and are being) held remotely via virtual platforms, many prospective jurors lack the equipment, the internet service and/or the private space to participate on a jury online. Most legal experts agree that in order to achieve the necessary diversity among jurors to provide defendants with a jury of their peers, trials must occur in person. Parts of the jury selection and orientation process may occur virtually.

What steps are the Vermont Courts taking to create a safe environment in the courthouse?

The court is taking myriad COVID-19 related precautions including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Courts will screen all people who enter the courthouse for COVID-19 by asking about symptoms and doing temperature checks with touch-free thermometers.
  • Masks or face covering are required to be work by all people in the courthouse at all times.
  • The Judiciary is limiting the number of people who can enter the courthouse and maintaining social distancing within the building.  In addition, appropriate social distancing must be maintained within the courthouse. The courts will ensure that all people in the courthouse or the courtrooms can and do maintain appropriate social distancing. Courts may erect barriers between individuals or ensure they can remain six feet apart.
  • Courthouses have undergone or are currently undergoing inspection of heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems to ensure they provide adequate air transfer to reduce transmission of COVID-19.
  • Hand sanitizer will be available throughout the courthouse and the courtrooms.
  • The courtrooms will be cleaned and sanitized at the end of each day, and throughout the day as dictated by public health guidelines.
  • Refrigerators and microwaves are not currently available in courthouses.

What happens in cases where courthouses cannot implement these precautions?

In rare instances where courthouses cannot be altered to employ COVID-19 safety measures—for example, they’re too old or too small—jury trials may move to alternate venues. We understand the hardships such moves may create for staff, defendants and jurors, and will only resort to changes in venue when absolutely necessary.

What happens when the jury deliberates? Will I be able to be socially distant from others during deliberations?

Yes. In fact, in some cases, the jury will take over the entire courtroom and court staff and others will move to other spaces.

What phone number or email address should I use if I have specific questions related to jury service during the COVID-19 pandemic?

If you are a prospective juror, you can find information for contacting the appropriate court in the materials you receive as part of the summons process. You may also contact the Vermont Courts by phone at 802-865-5879 or email at jud.jury@vermont.gov for general information.

Will I be able to let the court know the reasons why I feel I cannot participate in jury service?

Yes, you will receive a questionnaire on which you can explain reasons why you feel you cannot participate at this time.

Will I be required to wear a face covering?

Yes, all individuals entering courthouses—including court personnel, attorneys, parties, jurors, and members of the public—must wear masks at all times in public areas, including in the courtroom.

May I use my own face covering?

Yes, if it covers both your nose and mouth and you wear it is worn in the manner for which it was made.

If I don’t have a mask or face covering. Will the court provide one?

Yes, the court will provide a mask to any person, including a juror, who is permitted to be in the courthouse.

What can I do to help maintain a safe environment during jury service?

If you report to the courthouse for jury service, please adhere to the following guidelines to keep everyone safe:

  • Keep your personal items separated from other jurors’ items.
  • Wash your hands frequently and use hand sanitizer often.
  • Maintain an appropriate social distance of six feet from others when no barrier exists between you.
  • Wear a face covering in all public areas of the courthouse.

What do I do if I exhibit symptoms consistent with COVID-19 or find out I have been in contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 during jury service?

Please do not report to the courthouse. During juror orientation you will learn whom you should call to report this information and to obtain additional guidance from the court as to how to proceed regarding your jury service.

Will there be screening of persons entering the courthouse?

Yes. Court staff will screen all individuals entering the courthouse using protocols detailed in an Administrative Directive of the State Court Administrator, which is based on public-health guidance. These protocols include the use of a symptom-checking questionnaire and a temperature check.

Administrative Order 49 - Declaration of Judiciary Emergency and Changes to Court Procedures

The Vermont Supreme Court issued Administrative Order 49 on March 16, 2020, declaring a Judicial Emergency and detailing changes to court operations due to the outbreak of COVID-19. The Order has been amended several times. A consolidated version of the Order with all amendments can be viewed here:

Blueprint For Expansion of Court Operations

On May 13, 2020, the Vermont Supreme Court approved the recommendations contained in a Report that is the Judiciary’s blueprint for expanding operations in the context of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic.

Report on Restarting Criminal Jury Trials

In late May the Vermont Supreme Court established a Jury Restart Committee and named Associate Justices Karen Carroll and Harold Eaton as its co-chairs. The committee was asked to consider issues relating to the resumption of criminal jury trials, which were suspended by the Supreme Court in its mid-March Declaration of a Judicial Emergency due to COVID-19. In addition to the co-chairs, the committee includes two superior judges, a court operations manager, a state’s attorney, a public defender, and a representative from the Vermont Bar Association.

The committee submitted its report to the Supreme Court on July 21. The report includes 28 recommendations regarding the resumption of criminal jury trials. These recommendations address a range of operational issues associated with restarting jury activity, including those relating to community safety and public health. The report does not address the resumption of civil jury trials.

“The committee report provides us with a thoughtful and detailed roadmap to consider in connection with our efforts to reestablish jury trials – an essential feature of our justice system,” said Chief Justice Paul Reiber. “The Justices and I greatly appreciate their work.”

The Supreme Court has asked Chief Superior Judge Brian Grearson and the State Court Administrator Patricia Gabel to review the committee’s report and provide the Court with an implementation plan based on its recommendations. The committee report is available below. The implementation plan will be posted to the Judiciary’s website once this review has been completed.