May 14, 2020

Information regarding the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) and Court Operations

Administrative Order 49

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, which you can read in the stream of updates below. A consolidated version of the Order with all amendments can be viewed here:

 


***UPDATE: May 14, 2020***

Vermont Judiciary Issues 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. The full Report can be found on the Vermont Judiciary website at the link below:

Long Term Planning Committee: Ramp-Up Report

Although the Court has continued the Judicial Emergency until September 1, it also expands judicial operations effective on June 1 to include the resumption of non-emergency hearings. Criminal jury trials are scheduled to begin again on September 1. Social distancing and assembly restrictions will be in place for any activities in courthouses, including jury trials.

While all dockets are important, priority will be given to juvenile cases and those involving defendants detained pre-trial. Judicial Bureau hearings will begin again on June 1, in the discretion of the State Court Administrator.

The Supreme Court declared a Judicial Emergency on March 16, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. The Order, which became effective on March 17, postponed superior court hearings in all but the most urgent cases—those most profoundly impacting individuals’ personal liberty, safety, and family attachments. In addition, in those cases, the Court sought to maximize the use of remote audio and video to minimize the number of individuals congregating for a hearing. All jury trials and all Judicial Bureau hearings were suspended, and the Court relaxed rules and procedures regarding court filings to allow individuals to use email for most court filings. The Court also adopted emergency procedures regarding timelines and access to court buildings.  

A committee, Chaired by Associate Justice Harold Eaton, was formed at the request of Chief Justice Paul Reiber to make recommendations to the Court about a transition back to full operations. The Report addresses the opportunities and constraints posed by Judiciary budget issues, technology needs, staffing, and facilities in a time of social distancing.

 

***UPDATE: May 13, 2020***

On May 13, 2020, the Vermont Supreme Court made further declarations regarding the Judicial Emergency that was declared on March 16, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Court has extended the judicial emergency through September 1, 2020.

The Court has taken several actions to lift the suspension of nonemergency court proceedings in the superior court and the judicial bureau to allow the expansion of court operations. Effective June 1, 2020, nonemergency hearings in all dockets may begin. Also, effective June 1, 2020, the Court has suspended jury trials in criminal cases until September 1, 2020, and in civil cases until January 1, 2021.

Finally, the Court has allowed attorneys, who must relicense by June 30, 2020, and are suffering financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic, to defer payment of the relicensing fee until September 1, 2020.

An additional Explanatory Note explains the reasons for taking these measures.

Read the full Order:

 

***UPDATE: May 1, 2020***

On April 30, 2020, the Vermont Supreme Court made further declarations regarding the Judicial Emergency that was declared on March 16, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Court has clarified that the provisions pertaining to remote participation through audio or video means that are applicable in most cases in the civil, family, and probate divisions extend to proceedings in the Environmental Division.

The Court has also extended provisions regarding remote proceedings in the criminal division to allow nonevidentiary proceedings not requiring presence of the defendant to be conducted via video conference. In evidentiary proceedings where the presence of the defendant is required, remote participation is by consent of the parties. These provisions are now also applicable to juvenile delinquency proceedings.

Finally, the Court has eliminated the special procedure that allowed a party to self-attest to an oath where an oath and notary are required by court rules. Because of action taken by the Vermont Legislature, this provision is now unnecessary. Under S. 114, signed into law on April 28, 2020, a party may file without notarization any document that would otherwise require approval or verification of notary and include a self-attestation clause.

An additional Explanatory Note explains the reasoning for taking these measures.

Read the full Order:

 

***UPDATE: April 21, 2020***

On April 21, 2020, the Vermont Supreme Court made further declarations regarding the Judicial Emergency that was declared on March 16, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Court amended Administrative Order 49 as follows:

1. Modification or Enforcement of Parent-Child Contact. The Court has clarified that certain emergency hearings involving the modification or enforcement of parent-child contact in domestic and juvenile cases are included within the exception to the general suspension of in-court hearings.  

2. Audio and Video-Enabled Hearings. The Court has suspended certain rules to provide trial courts with greater flexibility in presiding remotely through remote audio or video technology, and in setting hearings with remote audio or video participation. In particular, the amendment recognizes that the present Judicial Emergency warrants suspension of the notice and timing requirements relating to video hearings pursuant to V.R.C.P. 41.3(c), V.R.P.P. 41.3(c), and V.R.F.P. 17 (incorporating V.R.C.P. 41.3 for certain family proceedings). It authorizes courts to hold hearings, both evidentiary and non-evidentiary, in civil, probate, and most family division cases by remote audio technology. It authorizes courts in the criminal division to hold certain non-evidentiary proceedings by remote audio means where the presence of the defendant is not required by V.R.Cr.P. 43.3. It also authorizes courts to hold evidentiary proceedings in the criminal division by remote means upon agreement of all parties.

3. Everyone in Judiciary Buildings Must Wear Masks. The amendment provides that all individuals entering Judiciary buildings must wear cloth masks covering the mouth and nose. This rule applies to all who work in the Judiciary as well as participants, lawyers, members of the media, and members of the public. The Judiciary recommends that people use their own cloth masks but will provide masks for people who do not have their own. Individuals who are not wearing a mask, whether their own or one provided by the court, will be denied entry at screening points. Individuals who remove their masks after entering the building will be required to immediately leave the building. Judiciary staff in nonpublic workspaces are not required to wear masks if no other people are nearby but should wear them in nonpublic common spaces such as bathrooms or office breakrooms. Face coverings are not a substitute for physical distancing and other prevention measures.  

An additional Explanatory Note explains the reasoning for taking these measures.

Read the full order:

 

***UPDATE: April 13, 2020***

On April 13, 2020, the Vermont Supreme Court made further declarations regarding the Judicial Emergency that was declared on March 16, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Court has suspended some court rules regarding how pleadings and other documents, except for service of process, are served on other parties. The changes require lawyers to serve documents on one another by email. To facilitate this, lawyers must provide up to three emails to receive service. Lawyers may also agree in writing to an alternative method of service, including by mail or another electronic method. Email service is not required by or to self-represented parties, but email or other electronic service can be made by mutual agreement. For the Supreme Court, briefs and printed cases must be served as required by the appellate rules, in particular a paper copy must be served on a self-represented party unless the parties agree otherwise.

An additional Explanatory Note explains the reasoning for taking these measures.

Read the full Order:

 

***UPDATE: April 9, 2020***

On April 9, 2020, the Vermont Supreme Court made further declarations regarding the Judicial Emergency that was declared on March 16, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Court has extended the judicial emergency to remain in effect until May 31, 2020. The amendment removes language that had a different suspension period for jury trials so that suspension of jury draws and jury trials is coterminous with the period of the judicial emergency.

An additional Explanatory Note explains the reasoning for taking these measures.

Read the full Order:

 

***UPDATE: April 7, 2020***

On April 6, 2020, the Vermont Supreme Court made further declarations regarding the Judicial Emergency that was declared on March 16, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Court has ordered that all jury draws and jury trials currently scheduled to take place on or before May 15, 2020, be suspended.

For filings to the Supreme Court, the Court has suspended the requirement that parties file paper copies of their briefs and printed case. The appellate briefs and printed cases will be considered filed when sent by email.  Paper copies will still be required if ordered by the Court or within thirty days after either the judicial emergency ends or the filing requirement is no longer suspended. The Court has directed that it can hold oral argument through video or other electronic means and provide public access by electronic means.

In listing the people who can enter a courthouse, the Court has corrected terminology to refer to communication specialists.

The order addresses notarization and oaths. It allows individuals to self-certify the truthfulness of their statements, subject to the penalty of contempt where notarization is required by court rule. It also allows remote administration of the oath for depositions and allows courts to administer an oath remotely in a hearing if the court is satisfied as to the identity of the witness testifying.

Finally, the Court has suspended the administration of the July Uniform Bar Exam to a later date. An additional Explanatory Note explains the reasoning for taking these measures.

Read the full Order:

 

***UPDATE: March 26, 2020***

Vermont Supreme Court Further Restricts Access to Court Proceedings in Response to COVID-19 Pandemic

On March 25, 2020, the Vermont Supreme Court made further declarations regarding the Judicial Emergency that was declared on March 16, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Court has further restricted public access to court proceedings so that, with narrow exceptions, only participants will be admitted to Vermont Judiciary courthouses. Registered members of the media may continue to enter courthouses to observe court proceedings that are not otherwise confidential. All individuals admitted to a courthouse must observe social distancing to the extent reasonably possible.

The Court has added an Explanatory Note to the Administrative Order, describing the progressive and ongoing measures taken by the Court as a balance between responding to mitigate the risks from the COVID-19 pandemic, providing public access to court proceedings, and upholding the critical role that courts play in protecting individual rights and maintaining the rule of law.

Read the full Order:

 

***UPDATE: March 24, 2020***

Vermont Supreme Court Makes Further Declarations Regarding Judicial Emergency

On March 24, 2020, the Vermont Supreme Court made further declarations regarding the Judicial Emergency that was declared on March 16, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The restrictions on access to judiciary buildings is extended for as long as Administrative Order 49 is in effect. Due to the rapidly-changing nature of this emergency, the list of countries and regions affected has been removed from the Order. The Order now refers to the list on the Department of Health website, which is being updated regularly.

Supreme Court Committees, Boards, and Commissions (committees) will continue to operate to the extent possible. All in-person meetings are suspended. Committees may meet remotely and must take reasonable steps to facilitate public observation. In their discretion, committees may hold non-evidentiary hearings remotely. Evidentiary hearings are postponed but can be excepted from the restriction upon application to the Supreme Court. The oath for admission to the bar may be taken remotely by video.  

The Order addresses MCLE requirements for attorney licensing.  

The Order allows committees to accept filings by email and indicates how to accomplish that filing.

The Chief Superior Judge, in consultation with the State Court Administrator, may both assign venue for certain proceedings if all participants can participate remotely and assign a change in venue if necessary to ensure access to justice and efficient administration of justice.

Read the full Order:

 

***UPDATE: March 23, 2020***

Vermont Supreme Court Makes Further Declarations Regarding Judicial Emergency

On March 20, 2020, the Vermont Supreme Court made further declarations regarding the Judicial Emergency that was declared on March 16, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Litigants sending filings to courts by email can sign documents with the filer’s name typed in and a "/s/," or an electronic or scanned signature, or other form that satisfies the definition in 9 V.S.A. § 271(9). This does not apply to documents that must be notarized by statute.

The judicial emergency amounts to "good cause," which authorizes people to participate in mediation by telephone or video.

Judicial employees must work only in their assigned building during business hours, except for authorized supervisors, or remotely in accordance with the Judiciary’s teleworking guidelines.

Read the full Order:

 

***UPDATE: March 18, 2020***

Vermont Supreme Court Makes Further Declarations Regarding Judicial Emergency

On March 18, 2020, the Vermont Supreme Court made further declarations regarding the Judicial Emergency that was declared on March 16, 2020 in response the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hearings for nonemergency matters, although generally suspended, may proceed if the parties participate remotely and are not in the courthouse. Such hearings are subject to the discretion of the Superior Judge and the Court Administrator.

The Supreme Court may hold oral arguments for summary or full-Court proceedings by telephone or consider the case without oral argument in its discretion.

Read the full Order:

 

***UPDATE: March 16, 2020***

Vermont Supreme Court Declares Judicial Emergency; Suspends All Non-Emergency Superior Court Hearings

On March 16, 2020, the Vermont Supreme Court declared a Judicial Emergency due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. The Emergency will extend until April 15, 2020, unless further extended by order of the Court. Notwithstanding any rule or timeline inconsistent with the Emergency Order, all nonemergency Superior Court hearings, whether evidentiary or non-evidentiary, will be postponed. The Order cites specific exceptions for high-priority cases that must be heard. All Judicial Bureau hearings are postponed.

For those non-evidentiary proceedings that do go forward because they are one of the exceptions to the Order, parties and counsel may participate remotely by telephone without seeking permission by motion. Where feasible, parties may participate by video appearance as approved by the judge. Parties or counsel must make advance arrangements to appear by video.

Appearance by telephone or video for evidentiary hearings will continue to be governed by existing rules.

The Emergency Order describes when email filings may be acceptable and when electronic filing is required.

From the date of the Emergency Order until March 30, 2020, no person will be permitted to enter a courthouse except for the purposes outlined in the Order; and, then, only if they pass screening questions related to the COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic.

Read the full Emergency Order:

 

***UPDATE: March 13, 2020***

Supreme Court Orders Temporary Postponement of Jury Drawings

The Vermont Supreme Court issued an administrative directive, effective immediately, ordering the postponement of all jury trials for which the jury has not yet been drawn until at least April 15, 2020. The directive was issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Superior judges retain the discretion to postpone jury draws in cases that are listed as exceptions in the directive. Any case in which a jury has already been selected may proceed at the discretion of the superior judge.

The COVID-19 pandemic presents unprecedented challenges to the administration of jury trials in Vermont. With the emerging threat to public health, many Vermonters seek to practice, to the extent they can, "social distancing," as recommended by public health officials. For that reason, compulsory jury service could be particularly burdensome to certain Vermonters, especially those with heightened vulnerability to the virus.

The Court will continue to monitor the situation and will amend this directive as necessary to respond to the evolving pandemic.

Read the full administrative order:

 

***UPDATE: March 11, 2020***

Information for people who may be attending court:

The situation regarding COVID-19 is rapidly changing. We are working with the Department of Health and Buildings and General Services and you should check this website frequently concerning information regarding court operations.

To protect public health, we respectfully request that if you answer yes to any of the following questions, that you consider not entering the Courthouse area. If you are here for a court hearing, please call the court to possibly arrange for an alternative means to participate in your hearing.

  • In the past few days have you felt unwell, especially with respiratory symptoms (cough, high temperature, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing)?
  • In the past 14 days have you:
    • Been in contact with a person infected with novel coronavirus (COVID-19)?
    • Been to one of the affected countries or regions (listed at https://www.healthvermont.gov/covid19):
      China, Iran, South Korea, Italy and Japan
    • Been to a healthcare facility (hospital, walk-in clinic, emergency room) where people infected with COVID-19 are treated?

Again, if you are here for a court hearing and are feeling signs of sickness, please call the court to arrange for an alternative to entering the building.

Thank you for your help in reducing the spread of this virus.

 

Initial posting from March 10, 2020

In response to the emergence of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the Vermont Judiciary is following all recommended guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Vermont Department of Health to ensure the safety and health of our court visitors and staff. Please note the following:

  • If you are required to appear in court or are called as a juror and are experiencing any flu like symptoms, have a fever, are coughing or sneezing, please contact the court before appearing. The court may make certain accommodations and reschedule appearances and hearings as needed.
  • If you have recently traveled from an area with widespread or ongoing community spread of COVID-19 and you have symptoms of the disease (fever, cough, shortness of breath) reach out to your healthcare provider for details on how to proceed with proper medical care.

We encourage you to stay informed by visiting the following websites:

If an outbreak warrants a court closure or relocation, information will be announced on this website.

Please know that judicial branch leadership at all levels of our courts are monitoring this situation closely and are committed to open access to our courts and service to the public. We will continue to update this page as developments arise. In the meantime, should you have questions, please direct them to Patricia Gabel, Vermont State Court Administrator, at (802) 828-3278 or Patricia.Gabel@vermont.gov.