September 03, 2021

Vermont Supreme Court Extends its Declaration of Judicial Emergency Through November 1, 2021

New Administrative Directive calls for increased mask wearing in buildings

The Vermont Supreme Court has once again amended its order declaring a Judicial Emergency. Administrative Order 49, which was originally adopted in March of 2020, has been amended numerous times in order to ensure the Judiciary continues to be responsive to public health guidance relating to COVID-19. The current amendments, like previous measures, aim to protect the health of Judiciary employees and the public while providing necessary services and access to justice for all Vermonters.

The Court’s most recent amendments, which went into effect on September 1, are based on the increasing COVID-19 infection rate and projections of public-health experts concerning the course of the pandemic. The amendments extend the effective date of the order from September 7, 2021, to November 1, 2021. The amendment also provides for the designation by the State Court Administrator of certain courthouses as “limited-entry courthouses.”  

“This class of courthouses are those that are not suitable for regular unrestricted in-person hearings due to limitations in the building’s air flow systems,” said Patricia Gabel, State Court Administrator, who explained that with some exceptions, all hearings to be held in such buildings must now be scheduled for remote participation by all parties. “We will maintain a list of all the courthouses that fall into this new category on the Judiciary’s website, along with the number of participants permitted to be in each building while the order is in place,” Gabel said.

Gabel noted that while hearings are required to be held remotely in courthouses that are designated as limited-entry, they are encouraged in courthouses that do not fall into this category. “This means that in-person hearings will still be taking place in certain courthouses,” she explained, adding “of course, where they do they must be in compliance with the COVID-19 safeguards the Judiciary has adopted.”

The Court’s amended order makes clear that the existing provision suspending strict enforcement of the timelines for responding to requests for court records extends to administrative records as well as case records. In addition, it amends provisions on email filing and service in light of the implementation of electronic filing at the Supreme Court last month.

Gabel has authority under the Court’s order to develop public health and safety-related protocols for entry to and conduct in Judiciary buildings, including screening, social distancing, masking, and related matters. She has done so through the issuance of an Administrative Directive, which has been amended several times since it was originally adopted in June of 2020. On September 1, 2021, she amended her directive again. The latest amendments, which became effective yesterday, provide for, among other things, stricter mask-wearing requirements in Judiciary buildings, a move made necessary, according to Gabel, by the level of community prevalence of the COVID-19 virus. “The number of positive reported cases of COVID-19 per thousand Vermont residents has increased to over 20 from a level in June of fewer than 1.0,” Gabel said.

The latest version of the Supreme Court’s order and other information about the Judiciary’s operations during the pandemic is available at www.vermontjudiciary.org/covid19