FRANKFORT, Ky., May 15, 2020 — Two weeks after announcing that the Judicial Branch had formed three task forces to determine how to gradually resume in-person court services, the Supreme Court has released its reopening plan.
“Our priority is to implement a limited, phased reopening that will allow greater access to the courts while keeping court personnel and the public safe through social distancing and other precautions,” Chief Justice of Kentucky John D. Minton Jr. said in an email today to the justices, judges, circuit court clerks and court personnel who serve the Judicial Branch.
Supreme Court Order Expanding Court Operations
Health and Safety Requirements for the Expansion of Operations can be found in Supreme Court Administrative Order 2020-39, dated May 15, 2020, and effective June 1, 2020. The directives are extensive and the main points are here:
- Courts may resume hearing all civil and criminal matters.
- All hearings should be conducted remotely, unless the judge determines that an in-person hearing is necessary.
- If a matter requires an in-person hearing, several safety precautions must be observed, including limiting courtroom capacity, social distancing, facial coverings and frequent disinfecting of public spaces.
- Entrance to court facilities is limited to individuals with a scheduled in-person hearing and those filing emergency protective orders, interpersonal protective orders and emergency custody orders.
- All Kentucky Court of Justice officials and employees and all members of the public entering a court facility must wear a facial covering.
- Members of the public are prohibited from bringing purses or similarly enclosed bags into court facilities, unless items in the bags are medically necessary.
- Telework will be encouraged for any employee who is able to do so.
- Staffing will be limited to 50%, unless an exception is granted by the Department of Human Resources.
“Producing the reopening plan took an intense effort,” Chief Justice Minton said. “I want to thank the three Supreme Court justices for their work on this unprecedented assignment: Deputy Chief Justice Lisabeth T. Hughes, chair of the Circuit Court Task Force; Justice Debra Hembree Lambert, chair of the Family Court Task Force; and Justice Michelle M. Keller, chair of the District Court Task Force.
He said that in addition to the reopening order, the Supreme Court will issue specific guidance on driver’s license services and certain court matters, such as evictions and jury service, in the coming days.
Health and Safety Requirements for Court Personnel
The Administrative Office of the Courts has also produced a detailed guide to help the elected officials and non-elected court personnel implement the required health and safety measures. The Kentucky Court of Justice COVID-19 Health and Safety Requirements can be found here.
“As you know, the majority of court matters are not voluntary,” Chief Justice Minton said. “People can choose whether to eat at a restaurant or go shopping, but in most instances they don’t get to choose whether they go to court. We’re incorporating as many of the governor’s requirements as possible into our orders to maintain a high standard of safety for our employees, elected officials and the public.”
You can find ongoing court updates on the COVID-19 and the Courts webpage.
About the Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is the state court of last resort and the final interpreter of Kentucky law. Seven justices sit on the Supreme Court and all seven justices rule on appeals that come before the court. The justices are elected from seven appellate districts and serve eight-year terms. A chief justice, chosen for a four-year term by fellow justices, is the administrative head of the state’s court system and is responsible for its operation. The Supreme Court may order a ruling or opinion to be published, which means that the ruling becomes the case law governing all similar cases in the future in Kentucky.
Administrative Office of the Courts
The Administrative Office of the Courts in Frankfort is the operations arm of the state court system. The AOC supports the activities of nearly 3,400 court system employees and 406 elected justices, judges and circuit court clerks. As the fiscal agent for the state court system, the AOC executes the Judicial Branch budget.