Minnesota courts will not begin any new jury trials in the next month, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Gildea ordered Friday.
Any trials and grand jury proceedings that are ongoing can continue to conclusion, Gildea said, but no new proceedings will begin before April 22 or until further notice from the court.
Gildea ordered that courthouses remain open for cases involving "an immediate liberty concern, or when public or personal safety concerns are paramount." But there will be severe restrictions on public access to hearings and case records.
“We are committed to protecting the safety of all who must enter into a courthouse during this unprecedented time," Gildea said in a statement. "The Minnesota Judicial Branch is where people access justice and defend their constitutional rights. The balancing of public health and access to justice during this time is testing our systems and procedures.
"The steps we announce today will help us maintain that delicate balance."
Criminal and juvenile proceedings that will continue in courthouses across the state include bail review, contested hearings that don't require testimony, plea hearings, sentencing hearings and probation revocation hearings.
Emergency hearings in housing or eviction matters, civil commitment, custody, guardianship and protective order cases also will continue.
Gildea said court security personnel will limit the number of people in one location and impose social distancing measures, in accordance with public health recommendations. Attorneys and clients may appear remotely, as well as victims delivering impact statements.
Proceedings at the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court also will continue, though the panels are encouraged to use remote technology, postpone cases or forgo oral arguments and rely on written submissions.
All other hearings through April 22 must be postponed or conducted through technology such as interactive television "to the extent feasible, practicable and in the interests of justice," Gildea ordered.
The general public will no longer have open access to proceedings. Courtrooms will be limited to the parties in the case, their attorneys, court staff and anyone else the judge determines to be "necessary" to conduct the hearing. Media representatives also will have access to proceedings by providing advance notice.
Courthouses will accept filings only through electronic means, by mail or through designated drop boxes. Court administration counters will not be staffed for in-person services, and public access computers will be shut down — meaning case records will not be accessible for the time being.
The Minnesota Judicial Branch announced earlier this week that automatic late penalties, collections referrals and driver's license suspensions would be suspended for the next 30 days "in an effort to reduce foot traffic in courthouses."
Jurors must still follow the instructions on paper summons, but the Judicial Branch will not be calling any additional jurors to courthouses for the next 30 days.
Friday's state court order is similar to one issued earlier this week by Chief Judge John Tunheim of the U.S. District Court in Minnesota. Tunheim suspended most federal court proceedings in the state through at least April 16. All criminal and civil trials already had been postponed through April 27.