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Eastern District postpones jury trials, proceedings until May due to virus

The Eastern District of Wisconsin is postponing jury trials and other court proceedings through at least May 1 in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

In the order issued on Friday, Chief Judge Pamela Pepper said normal court operations posed a risk to public and the judiciary. By March 15, Wisconsin had 33 confirmed cases of COVID-19, seven of which were in Milwaukee County.

The order said staff will reschedule proceedings on the calendar for the next eight weeks, and the court will use phone and video conferences to keep criminal proceedings moving. It also canceled naturalization ceremonies and other public events at the courthouse through at least May 1.

The courthouse remains open, and staff in the clerk’s office can be reached by phone. The clerk’s office intake counter is also open to receive filings.

Specific changes to court operations through May 1 include:

  • All civil and criminal jury trials scheduled to begin before May 1 are continued and will be rescheduled by the presiding judge to a date after May 1.
  • All petty offense (CVB) proceedings are continued and will be rescheduled by the presiding judge to a date after May 1.
  • All START reentry court proceedings are continued and will be rescheduled by the reentry court judge to a date after May 1.
  • All civil hearings, including settlement conferences, will be conducted by telephone or video conference.
  • In criminal proceedings:
    • Judges will review complaints, applications for search warrants or trap/trace/pen registers, applications for wire taps or three applications for other such warrants or orders electronically;
    • When possible and practicable with the defendant’s oral or written consent, initial appearances and arraignments may be conducted by video conference;
    • When a detention hearing has been set and a defendant decides to consent to detention, the defendant must, before the date of the detention hearing, notify the court in writing that he or she consents;
    • All hearings on the revocation of supervised release scheduled to begin before May 1 are continued and will be rescheduled by the presiding judge to a date after May 1;
    • All plea colloquies and sentencing hearings scheduled to begin before May 1 are continued and will be rescheduled by the presiding judge to a date after May 1;
    • Parties wishing to adjourn in-person criminal hearings scheduled to begin before May 1 must file a written motion no less than three days prior to the scheduled hearing, stating whether the opposing party agrees to the continuance; the reasons that the party is requesting the continuance; and why the ends of justice outweigh the interests of the parties and the public in a speedy trial.
  • The period of any continuance entered from March 13 through May 1 as a result of this order will be excluded under the Speedy Trial Act.
  • The presiding judge in any case may, if requested by a party or parties, make case-by-case exceptions to the continuances of non-jury matters resulting from this order, after consultation with counsel.

The Western District of Wisconsin issued a statement on Thursday that said court operations and cases were continuing as usual, but staff employees were monitoring the pandemic. Chief Judge James Peterson said most of the court’s work doesn’t require large groups to gather or people to gather in close proximity.

On Monday, staff at the Clerk of Court’s office for the Western District said no changes have been made to the guidance outlined in the statement.

About Michaela Paukner, mpaukner@wislawjournal.com

Michaela Paukner is the legal reporter for the Wisconsin Law Journal. She can be reached at (414) 225-1825 or by email at mpaukner@wislawjournal.com.

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