Covid-19 Courthouse Update – January 12, 2021
Chief Judge Bain issued a new Chief Judge Order 2021-02, which covers El Paso & Teller County Courthouse Coronavirus-related operations. From a family law perspective, nothing is changed from the prior orders – hearings in Public Safety Matters may be heard in person if necessary, but electronic hearings are encouraged, and all other matters shall be conducted remotely via WebEx or telephone.
Unless things change, however, the order contemplates a resumption of jury trials on February 19 – while family law does not have jury trials, this does suggest a push to normalize operations – finally, after a year. Time to dust off the suits and lose the sweatpants!
Covid-19 Courthouse Update – November 24, 2020
It’s been a long while since the 4th Judicial District has updated its Coronavirus-related opening status, and, frankly, all of us were crossing our fingers that maybe we could keep things as they were until vaccines saved the day. No such luck – with the daily case average approaching 200,000 nationwide, and deaths rising in lockstep, El Paso County has moved to “Level Red: Severe Risk” the Friday after Thanksgiving.
The El Paso County Courthouse has now updated its guidance. Previously, jury trials were postponed, and today Chief Judge Bain issued Chief Judge Order 20-31, which, through January 8, 2021, returns the court to the restrictions early on in the pandemic. In short, the Courthouse is closed to the public, except for case filing and hearings related to Public Safety Matters, and masks are required in the courthouse.
From a family law perspective, para. 6 of the order defines Public Safety Matters as:
- Civil Protection Orders (aka “Restraining Orders”)
- Motions to restrict parenting time or for abduction prevention measures
- Any other proceeding which the Chief Judge deems necessary to prevent “a substantial disk of imminent financial hardship or imminent risk to the health, safety or welfare of any individual or members of the community.”
Court Filings must be done as follows:
- Mailed to courthouse.
- Put in drop box in front of courthouse
- E-filed through the Colorado Courts E-filing System (CCE). If you are not yet set up for electronic filing, you’re in luck – El Paso County is one of the few counties in the state where non-attorneys can sign up.
- In-person at from 8 a.m. through 3 p.m. (for Public Safety Matters only).
Covid-19 Courthouse Update – August 13, 2020
Chief Judge Bain has issued Chief Judge Order 20-27, which affects El Paso County Courthouse operations for the next two weeks from Monday, August 17 through August 31, 2020. It relaxes the two-week closure from the prior update, so here’s a quick summary of what’s included:
- Masks required for all visitors and staff, except as directed by a judge or magistrate in the courtroom.
- Social distancing must be observed – cannot be within 6 feet of one-another.
- Case filing. The El Paso County Courthouse is open again for public safety filings from 8 a.m. through 12 noon, and 1 p.m. through 4:30 p.m. All other filings must be done online, via a dropbox, or by appointment only – call 719-452-5094 to arrange a time.
- In-Person hearings/trials are only permitted for public safety matters, or when an individual judicial officer determines that conducting a contested evidentiary hearing via video conference or telephone is impractical.
Public Safety Matters
The order contains examples of public safety matters consistent with prior orders. For domestic relations, that means:
- Civil protection orders (i.e. restraining orders)
- Restriction of parenting time
- Abduction prevention measures hearings
- “Other proceedings deemed necessary by the Chief Judge to prevent a substantial risk of imminent financial hardship or imminent risk to the health, safety or welfare of any individual or members of the community.”
Coronavirus Legal Update – August 4, 2020
Last week, an employee at the&n August 17 through Aubsp;El Paso County Courthouse tested positive for Covid-19, and as a result, in-person courthouse operations have been cut back for the next two weeks to emergency issues only. While the Teller County Courthouse remains unaffected, Chief Judge Order 20-26 applies to the El Paso County Courthouse from Monday August 3 through Friday August 14, 2020. Key points:
- Courthouse closed to all but the emergency services (for family law).
- Judges have discretion to do the emergency proceedings in-person or via telephone/video conference.
- Efilings accepted in all cases, paper filings at the Courthouse only for emergency services.
- Masks mandatory when in courthouse.
Coronavirus Legal Update – June 29, 2020
On June 28, 2020, Chief Judge Bain issued an updated Chief Judge Order 20-20 (confusingly, the same number as the prior order) regarding 4th Judicial District courthouse operations for the month of July 2020 during Coronavirus. There are various changes to operations, and from the family law perspective, here’s what changed since the prior order:
- By appointment only, pro se litigants with no counsel can file new matters only Call the court clerk’s office at 719-452-5094 to arrange for this.
- Whether to conduct a hearing in person or via video conference remains at the discretion of the individual judge or magistrate, with video/telephone strongly encouraged. However, the list of “vulnerable individuals” who cannot be required to participate in-person has been significantly expanded to add new conditions – of particular note given the shape America is in are someone who is obese (BMI of 30 or higher).
- Domestic Relations matters “where filing online is impractical” may be filed in person – presumably this means paternity and other juvenile matters, which at present do not have electronic filing available.
Aside from these changes, for family law matters the guidance from previous Chief Judge Orders remains in effect, so read the following for details on family law operations at the courthouse during Coronavirus.
Coronavirus Legal Update – June 2, 2020
On May 29, 2020, 4th Judicial District Chief Judge Bain issued an updated Chief Judge Order 20-20 regulating court operations for the month of June. From the family law perspective, the order is identical to Chief Judge Order 20-19 which was in effect for the month of May.
Overall courthouse operations have expanded slightly – paper documents (in “public safety matters” only) can be hand-filed in the clerk’s office from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. All other filings must still be done through the Court’s electronic filing system, via U.S. mail, or they apparently now have a drop box.
Finally, we have the now-standard (and, by now, “goes without saying”) reminder that Covid does NOT affect child custody orders:
“All Parties are advised that all existing court orders, including parenting time and parenting exchange orders, are not suspended by the Stay-at-Home or Safer-at-Home Orders issued by Governor Jared Polis, and shall continue to be followed unless otherwise modified by the court or agreement of the parties.”
For a complete discussion of parenting challenges during Coronavirus, see our blog post Parenting Time & Exchanges During Covid-19.
Covid-19 Legal Update – May 5, 2020
Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan B. Coats has issued an Updated Order Regarding COVID-19 and Operation of Colorado State Courts. The order directs courts to continue to implement remote working when possible, and that “wherever reasonably feasible, judicial proceedings, regardless of their nature, should continue to be conducted remotely.”
The order defines as essential certain types of hearings, which mean they take priority over all other business. For family law, this category includes protective orders and motions to restrict parenting time. Note that the order does not require essential proceedings to be conducted in person – on the contrary, it means that such proceedings must continue regardless, either remotely or in person. So if the judge cannot make them happen via video conference, then they must occur in person.
Coronavirus Legal Update – April 29, 2020
4th Judicial District Chief Judge Bain issued an updated Chief Judge Order 20-19, covering Covid-19 court operations under Governor Polis’s new “Safer at Home” order. The order is in effect from next Monday, May 4, through May 31. Individual judges now have discretion to conduct their hearings in-person, or via video teleconference:
“Domestic Relations Cases. The continued use of technology to conduct hearings by telephone or audio-visual device is strongly recommended. Nevertheless, beginning May 4, 2020, judicial officers shall have the discretion to conduct in-person proceedings, subject to the 10-person limit and social distancing requirements described in Section 2 of this Order. Counsel and unrepresented parties shall contact the clerks for the individual divisions to determine whether their hearing will occur by telephone, video conference, or in person.”
See our blog post 4th Judicial District (Sort Of) Open For Business for a complete discussion of the terms of this order.
Coronavirus Legal Update – April 3, 2020
4th Judicial District Chief Judge Bain issued an updated Chief Judge Order 20-16 Regarding Court Operations Under The Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Advisory, The order extends the closure of the courthouse to routine business through May 1, 2020. However, unlike the prior order which vacated all non-emergency hearings though April 10, para. III.C. provides for the possibility of conducting such hearings remotely:
“Effectively immediately all domestic relations hearings, with the exception of emergency motions to restrict parenting time and motions for abduction prevention measures, will not occur in-person during the time period set forth in this Order. Counsel and unrepresented parties shall contact the clerks for the individual divisions to determine whether their hearing will occur by telephone or video conference, or will be rescheduled.”
Mediations through the Court’s Office of Dispute Resolution are also potentially continuing via telephone:
“If you have a domestic relations mediation scheduled with the Office of Dispute Resolution during the time period set forth in this Order, your mediator will contact you to make arrangements for the mediation to occur by telephone or to reschedule. You may call the Office of Dispute Resolution at 719-452-5005 if you have any questions.”
The order also clarifies that parenting time and exchanges are not affected by coronavirus, or by Governor Polis’s stay-at-home order. See our updated blog post Parenting Time & Exchanges During COVID-19 for more details.
Graham.Law continues to be open for business. Although as a law firm we are partially exempt from the stay-at-home order, to help stop the spread of COVID-19 we are still working remotely most of the time – conducting consults telephonically, and communicating with clients via phone or email.
Coronavirus Legal Update – March 27, 2020
Colorado Governor Polis issued a stay-at-home order, requiring residents to stay in their homes other than for specifically excepted activities. One of those activities is for court-ordered exchanges – which means custody & parenting exchanges go on. See our blog post for more details on how this COVID-19 order impacts parenting.
From the perspective of providing legal services, Updated Public Health Order 20-24 Implementing Stay At Home Requirements, dated March 26, 2020, has a partial exception for the legal community. Section III.D.1 excludes from the order “Judicial branch operations, including attorneys if necessary for ongoing trials and required court appearances, unless appearances can be done remotely.” There is currently no local 4th Judicial District order issued after this, so presently it does not change the guidance from Chief Judge Bain discussed below.
What does this mean for Graham.Law and our clients? It doesn’t change anything – we started working from home primarily well before this order, and we will continue to assist our clients telephonically, and via email. But if we do have an emergency court hearing, we know that we’re allowed to meet you in person and go to court!
Coronavirus Legal Update – March 20, 2020
Two Covid-19 updates today:
- Graham.Law. Effective Monday, March 23, our physical office is closed to walk-in traffic, but our firm remains open for business – call us at our main number (719-630-1123), or email your attorney/paralegal. To protect from Covid-19, our employees will generally be working from home, other than for pre-arranged meetings or conferences. If you need to send us any documents, please email them to the responsible attorney or paralegal (or, if for a consult, to firstname.lastname@example.org), fax them to 719-960-2216, or send them via regular mail. If you do need to drop something off in person, please call our administrative assistant to prearrange a time when someone will be there to meet you.
- 4th Judicial District Courthouse. Chief Judge Bain has issued a new order extending the Covid-19 courthouse closure until April 10 – all hearings are vacated, and the court is closed to the public, and to court filings (electronic filings still okay), other than for specific emergency matters specified in the order. Status conferences are being conducted telephonically, with a number to call in for each specific hearing. From a domestic relations perspective, the only matters being heard are (1) motions to restrict parenting time, (2) abduction prevention orders, and (3) protective orders. Judge Bain’s order states:
“Domestic Relations Cases. Effective immediately, all in-person domestic relations hearings except emergency motions to restrict parenting time and motions for abduction prevention measures are vacated, subject to rescheduling. Counsel and unrepresented parties are directed to contact the clerks for the individual divisions to reschedule their matters or make alternate arrangements such as phone appearances.”
Coronavirus Legal Update – March 16, 2020
The Colorado Supreme Court has issued an order regarding coronavirus. In essence, through April 3 court operations throughout Colorado are cut back to the bare minimum – basically emergency orders (protection orders, dependency & neglect orders to protect children, motions to restrict parenting), and a limited number of criminal proceedings. All other court proceedings are vacated – I already had one hearing for later this week postponed until July!!
See the 4th Judicial District Covid-19 guidance on their web site. Basically, visitors are prohibited from the courthouse unless there for one of the specific listed reasons, and routine court filings are suspended. This is only a temporary measure – as the virus spreads and more people are under what amounts to lockdown conditions, I would be surprised if this were the last word on the issue, and suspect things will change.
Staying Safe With Coronavirus
I’m not a doctor, and never played one on TV, so while our blog is a great resource for Colorado family law developments, we don’t pretend to educate about COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control’s Coronavirus page, however, is an excellent authority for coronavirus-related information.
Taking some common-sense precautions in daily life can protect you, and at the same time slow the spread of Covid-19. Chief among these are good personal hygiene, and social distancing – we are doing both of them at Graham.Law.
Graham.Law Legal Services During Covid-19
At Graham.Law, we are constantly looking at how we do things to improve safety. While we are open for business to help you with your Colorado family law case, we ask your understanding as we are less approachable than usual. Our “standoffness” is not to be rude, but to protect both our clients, and our staff.
Effective Monday March 16, 2020 all of our initial consults will be conducted telephonically. While we’ve always offered the option of telephonic consults, this was primarily to help family law clients who live outside of Colorado; most of our local clients come in personally for their consults, not just for the face-to-face experience, but also because it’s easier for the attorney to review documents with the client.
Rest assured, you can still provide documents to us for the consult – you can upload them when completing your intake form, and the attorney will review them in advance. Or, if you prefer, once your consult is scheduled you can email documents to us.
We are encouraging greater use of email and the telephone to communicate with existing clients. We will also conduct settlement conferences telephonically, and while the attorney needs to attend mediation personally, on request the client can participate telephonically.
And when we do need to meet you in person (e.g. before trial), we won’t greet you with a firm handshake, much less hug you like a long-lost relative. Instead, you will encounter the elbow bump (UPDATE – to ensure proper social distancing, we’re actually greeting people from more than 6′ away). And should any of our staff have a fever or other symptoms, in an abundance of caution they will be working from home until we’re sure it’s safe. If an employee does get sick, he/she will not feel forced to work to make money – thanks to our generous paid time off, employees can stay at home without loss of pay.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, continuing Legal Education (CLE) courses are shifting to online webinars only instead of live attendance, to avoid having dozens of strangers in a large room.
Thanks to a strong cloud-based computer system (centered around the secure, commercial version of Google Suite), our attorneys and paralegals have the ability to do most of their work from home – so if the need arises, we can do it.
Other precautions which help protect against Covid-19, but people may not notice include increased cleaning, and sanitizers! (I had a hearing in court on Friday, and in addition to avoiding using my hands to touch the doors whenever possible, I squirted my hands every time I saw a bottle of sanitizer).
Coronavirus & Colorado Courts
Finally, the legal community as a whole is affected, and taking precautions against Covid-19. While federal and state court operations have been affected, or even closed, in some places (see law360.com’s excellent page for updated information), that has not yet happened in Colorado (though some districts are postponing non-essential operation, which attorneys in other parts of the state report includes their trials!)
As of March 15, the El Paso County Courthouse is open for business. But as the COVID-19 situation is rapidly changing, this too could change, especially now that Pikes Peak area schools have closed for two weeks. Check with the Colorado Courts announcement page for any updates.
In the meantime, the El Paso County Courthouse has issued guidance for litigants, jurors, or visitors. From a client perspective, call your lawyer if you have fever or any other symptoms, and we can request a continuance or telephonic appearance, or if you do not have a lawyer, call the courthouse. And people are permitted to wear masks and gloves, and bring their own sanitizers to court (they have bottles there as well).
While our client trials have not been postponed, the courthouse and local bar have cut back on legal services to decrease face-to-face interaction. Pro bono programs such as the Ask-a-Lawyer program at the Citadel Mall (at which I was scheduled to volunteer just yesterday) have been suspended. And the El Paso County Bar Foundation postponed the annual gala, which was scheduled for Saturday March 14 (OK, not quite a legal service, but a fun event nonetheless).
Let’s all pull through this together – hopefully with social distancing we can slow down coronavirus, and eventually get the kids back to school and return to our normal lives with minimal loss of life.