On December 4, 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 extended the judicial emergency until March 31, 2021. The extension is necessary based on the need to alter court operations to respond to the ongoing dynamic nature of the pandemic and to provide enough notice to court staff, court users, and the public regarding scheduling, operations, the status of Judiciary services, and the ways in which people can access the courts.
The Court has also provided clarification on the process for deciding when individual courts can hold jury trials. Under the existing terms of the emergency order, criminal jury trials are not formally suspended, and civil jury trials may commence after January 1. Under the amended language, superior courts seeking to hold a jury trial must secure the approval of the Chief Superior Judge and the Court Administrator before summoning jurors and holding a jury trial. The amendment identifies a host of factors the Court Administrator and Chief Superior Judge must consider to ensure that the necessary steps are taken to protect trial participants and public health, and that the Judiciary has adequate staffing to support a proposed jury trial. Trials that are already scheduled may be cancelled as evolving circumstances regarding the pandemic may require.
The Court has provided the judicial bureau with express authority to preside remotely and to require all participants to appear by remote means in recognition of the ongoing public health and safety concerns caused by the pandemic. Any objection to remote participation must be made as soon as possible. Where the hearing officer finds that there is good cause for in-person participation, the hearing will be postponed.
Finally, the Court has clarified that pretrial service coordinators are among the participants authorized to enter the courthouse to participate in a hearing that has not been suspended or ordered to be heard remotely.
An additional Explanatory Note provides the reasons for taking these measures.
Detail regarding the steps the Judiciary is taking to promote safe operations during the pandemic is available on the COVID-19 page of the Judiciary’s website at www.vermontjudiciary.org/COVID19. Information about being called for jury duty, serving as a juror, requesting a deferral from jury service for medical or other reasons, and about court operations and plans is available on these pages. This information will be updated as conditions warrant.