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Justices allow lower courts to resume with virus controls

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Supreme Court has decided to allow courts to resume in-person hearings and jury trials if they can come up with plans to protect participants and observers from the coronavirus.

The justices suspended in-person hearings and jury trials in March, ordering judges to continue trials to a date after May 22. Chief Justice Pat Roggensack convened a task force comprising judges, court clerks and attorneys in late April to examine how to resume in-person proceedings. The task force issued recommendations on May 15 that included calls for participants and spectators to wear face masks, observe social distancing standards and use hand sanitizers, and clerks to include a note in jury summons detailing the precautions the court has taken.

The court issued an order Friday evening that allows individual municipal and circuit courts to resume in-person proceedings, including jury trials, on a county-by-county basis if the courts prepare a plan to do so safely. Specific requirements are outlined below.

Justices Rebecca Bradley and Daniel Kelly disagreed with Friday’s order. They wrote in a dissent that the Supreme Court should simply let its orders suspending in-person proceedings expire and leave running courtrooms up to individual judges.

Circuit and municipal courts
The state Supreme Court ordered each circuit court to prepare an operational plan to safely resume in-person proceedings and jury trials. It encouraged the circuit courts to reference and incorporate the Wisconsin Courts COVID-19 Task Force’s final report, which established a four-phased approach to returning to full in-person court operations.

Each plan must mandate face masks for anyone present in a courtroom, although a judge can allow a witness to testify without one, spell out practices for cleaning frequently touched surfaces and require courthouse signs directing people to hand sanitizer.

The chief judge of each judicial administrative district must approve the plans before proceedings can resume. The chief judge’s signature would invalidate the Supreme Court’s suspensions and allow hearings and trial to resume in the local court that submitted the plan.

Until circuit courts approve an operational plan for resuming in-person proceedings, they will continue to hold remote hearings and suspend jury trials. The statewide order expires upon the circuit court chief judge’s approval of a local operational plan.

Municipal courts will continue with remote hearings until the chief judge for the judicial administrative district in which the municipal court is located issues an order approving an operational plan for the municipal court.

The “Temporary Mailbox Rule” will remain in effect for circuit courts until further order of the state Supreme Court. The rule deems correctly addressed and mailed documents filed by the date of the included Statement of Mailing.

Appellate courts
In the order issued late Friday afternoon, the high court extended an order allowing electronic filing of notices of appearance, motions and responses to motions filed in the Court of Appeals or Supreme Court. The order also waived the requirement of filing multiple paper copies of the notices of appearance, motions and responses to motions.

Appellate courts will continue with remote proceedings and allow remote administration of oaths until further notice of the state Supreme Court. The “Temporary Mailbox Rule” will remain in effect at the appellate level as well.

The office of the Clerk of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals remains open to accept filings between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. each business day, but parties are encouraged to file by mail if feasible. If filing in person, call the Clerk’s office at 608-266-1880 upon arrival, and someone will come out to the door to accept the filing.

The tolling deadlines, including tolling deadlines for filing petitions of review, expired on May 22. The provision of an early order discouraging non-emergency motions in the Court of Appeals and state Supreme Court also expired on May 22.

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