Steps Taken to Ease Most Pandemic-Related Restrictions
The Vermont Supreme Court adopted Administrative Order 49 in March 2020 to mitigate the risks to public health from the COVID-19 pandemic while maintaining the Judiciary’s obligation to protect individual rights, maintain the rule of law, and administer justice. AO 49 has been periodically amended to reflect the changing nature of the pandemic. As the pandemic winds down but the effects on court operations continue, the Court has reviewed the existing provisions and assessed whether to phase out or permanently adopt the remaining parts of AO 49. Several measures included in AO 49, particularly regarding remote hearings and email filing, have proven beneficial to court users. Incorporating provisions of AO 49 into permanent rules and policies has included seeking input on rules and related pandemic-related practices from the public, the legal community, and others. The most-recent amendments reflect the Supreme Court’s ongoing assessment of the nature of pandemic-related risks to the public and court staff, and lessons learned over the last two years about how the Judiciary can best adapt to them.
Effective September 6, 2022, many AO 49 provisions will be removed. Some of the provisions are replaced by permanent rules, including those on remote hearings, email filing, and email service. Other provisions are phased out, including the one that had relaxed the timelines for responding to requests for public records. After September 6, the remaining few AO 49 provisions will be limited to measures on remote hearings in the judicial bureau, oral arguments at the Supreme Court, notification requirements in foreclosure and eviction proceedings, and procedures for Court committees, boards, and commissions. These provisions will remain in effect until September 30, 2022, when it is expected that permanent rules pertaining to those matters will go into effect.
An additional Explanatory Note provides a detailed explanation of the changes to AO 49.
The State Court Administrator has also issued a new administrative directive on health screening and safety protocols in Vermont courthouses and judiciary facilities. Administrative Directive TC-1 goes into effect on September 6, 2022, and changes the existing policy on masks in public areas of a courthouse, making masks recommended but not required. In courtrooms, the presiding judicial officer has discretion to modify the masking requirement based on the consideration of health and safety factors. The directive maintains the existing requirements on social distancing and health screening.
The Judiciary appreciates the public’s patience and cooperation as the courts have attempted to balance health and safety considerations with the fair administration of justice.
The full text of Administrative Order 49 and other updates regarding COVID-19 and court operations are available at www.vermontjudiciary.org/covid19.