BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — Courthouses in the area are remaining open and functioning during the COVID-19 pandemic with certain restrictions.
The Fourteenth Judicial Circuit of Florida which consists of Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson and Washington county courthouses are staying open with new policies in place.
• Until further order, all in-person hearings have been suspended.
• Until further order, all jury trials and grand jury proceedings are suspended. Some noncritical proceedings that cannot be done telephonically or by video are suspended and continued.
• A circuit-wide moratorium is imposed on in-person foreclosure sales.
• A circuit-wide moratorium is imposed on the service of writs of possession.
• All judges in the circuit are designated as juvenile judges along with their regular duties to ensure the prompt disposition of juvenile detention matters.
• For at-risk children, the Court has adopted a policy of electronic parent-child visitations in keeping with Florida law.
• For individuals ordered into State-mandated counseling, all in-person counseling is suspended, and counseling shall continue utilizing electronic means.
“In the meantime we will not only do critical functions we will begin to add back some non-critical functions such as civil proceedings, probate, family law. We will do those using our technology,” explained Circuit chief judge Christopher Patterson.
To further curb the spread of COVID-19 through social distancing, the Court has also adopted telecommuting policies for administration personnel. Chief judge Patterson said going through Hurricane Michael has helped them be more prepared.
“We reaffirmed that we certain critical missions that must go on. That means the judges and our staff need to be flexible and it means judges need to go to a county jail to conduct first appearances we will do that. If it means that we need to be on call 24/7 we will do that,” noted Patterson.
He also added that they will be following state Supreme Court guidelines as well as the Florida Department of Health in going forward with future policies.