Coronavirus update: Marion County Prosecutor’s Office implementing telework

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The Indiana Lawyer on 3/12/2020

Editor’s note: This story is being regularly updated with the latest law-related responses to COVID-19.

POPAI Note: This article was captured on 3/13/2020 and will not be updated. Please see the original article for most up to date edits.

The Marion County Prosecutor’s Office is encouraging its employees to telework beginning Friday in response to the local emergence of the COVID-19 virus.

“The Marion County Prosecutor’s Office will maintain services to Marion County residents through this unprecedented situation,” Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears said in a statement. “We are encouraging employees to work from home as much as possible as the health and safety of our employees and members of the public is of the utmost importance.”

The prosecutor’s office says it has the capability to perform many of its duties and meet its responsibilities by phone, email and video conferencing.

Individuals with pending criminal matters are advised to reference www.mycase.in.gov to verify upcoming court hearings. Litigants can also contact via email or phone the assigned deputy prosecutor to verify scheduled case-related meetings, depositions and court hearings.

General questions or requests for assistance in contacting the appropriate deputy prosecutor should be directed to mcpo@indy.gov. Walk-in assistance at all locations will not be available until further notice.

Additionally, all child support hearings will be continued until after May 6, as approved by the Marion Circuit Court. However, child support services will still be available by phone at 317-327-1800 or email at familyadvocate@indy.gov.

Courts

The Marion Superior Court Executive Committee is “strongly requesting” that judges issue continuances for all civil as well as in-custody and out-of-custody criminal jury trials for the next 30 days if feasible to try to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

That request is part of a series of recommendations and two orders issued by the executive committee Thursday and joined by Marion Circuit Judge Sheryl Lynch. The committee described the steps as precautionary measures to ensure the health and safety of the public and the staff who work for the city of Indianapolis and Marion County.

In addition to the continuances, the executive committee is also “strongly requesting” that for the next 30 days, judges consider the following steps:

  • Advise line deputies to not bring defendants to court for pretrial conferences that will only result in the setting of a new court date
  • Allow parties to appear remotely
  • Continue pretrial conference and non-essential hearing that will not result in a resolution of a case
  • Exercise flexibility on requests for continuances
  • Allow attorneys-only conferences whenever possible without the requirement of a motion

Also, the executive committee has requested that the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department issues summonses for non-violent misdemeanor cases. These will be set for the initial hearing calendar for Wednesdays in May.

The committee emphasized that this request only applies to potential misdemeanor arrests that would normally be released on recognizance pending a future initial hearing date. No police officer is obligated to follow this request.

Similiar to Lake Circuit Court, the executive committee ordered that through April 20, any attorney wishing to appear remotely for any status conference, pretrial conference or non-evidentiary hearing is permitted to do so. The attorney shall file a simple “Notice of Remote Appearance” to inform the court.

Also, the executive committee ordered that people coming to Marion Superior courtrooms immediately notify the staff if they are experiencing flu or flu-like symptoms or if they have been exposed to someone who has or may have the coronavirus.

Previously, Indiana courts postponed events and updated their policies in response to COVID-19 to ensure they can continue operating and keep their employees safe.

The Indiana Court of Appeals cancelled its planned appearance at Andrean High School in Merrillville. As part of its Appeals on Wheels initiative, the court was scheduled to hear oral arguments Monday but has scrapped the event over concerns about the spread of the coronavirus. The event will be rescheduled.

In a pair of letters sent Wednesday to Indiana judicial officers and Indiana Supreme Court staff, the Indiana Supreme Court outlined its updated measures in response to the outbreak. The letters stated that the Supreme Court, Appellate Clerk’s Office and the Office of Judicial Administration remain open and oral arguments are continuing as scheduled.

However, the Spring Judicial College, Justice Services Conference and district meetings will not be conducted in-person. The court is developing alternative methods for delivering the programming to registrants and will provide information on that when it is available.

Also, all meetings with external stakeholders will be held remotely. All out-of-state work travel for court staff is cancelled, and approval for all in-state work travel will be given on a case-by-case basis.

The court has amended its work-from-home policy to give employees greater flexibility if they need to quarantine themselves or take care of children who are staying home because of school closures. Employees are not required to work from home. They can use any benefit time they have.

In his letter to court staff, Justin Forkner, chief administrative officer, wrote “… your health and wellbeing are a priority for us, and we will continue to take responsible and proactive steps to mitigate risks to you — and maintain the essential operations of the Court and our agencies — even if that means ‘the way we’ve always done it’ need to change.”

The court has created a special webpage where it will post all updates on court operations during the coronavirus outbreak.

Below are other coronavirus-related developments that have affected the legal community in recent days.

The Indiana Court of Appeals has directed its employees to work remotely at least through March 16 after learning some of its workers have had second- and third-degree exposure to others who have tested positive for the coronavirus.

“We would like to emphasize that nobody from the court has tested positive or is currently exhibiting symptoms,” Chief Judge Cale Bradford said in a statement. “Given the importance of our work, our employees are equipped and trained to work remotely. … We will continue to evaluate this situation as it unfolds.”

Bradford also advised, “Those doing work with the Court of Appeals of Indiana should conduct business under the regular rules and procedures.”

Lake Circuit Court issued two orders Tuesday in response to the outbreak.

From now until April 10, 2020, the court will allow attorneys to just file a “Notice of Remote Appearance” rather than filing a motion in order to appear telephonically for any status conference or non-evidentiary hearing. Also, the court has ordered anyone who comes to the Lake Circuit courtrooms who is ill or has been exposed to COVID-19 to immediately alert the court staff.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana and the Indiana Supreme Court along with the Office of Judicial Administration are reviewing plans to deal with the outbreak and are advising judges and staff to stay home if they become ill.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana did not respond to an inquiry from the Indiana Lawyer.

Although it has no plans at this time to cancel or postpone any hearings or trials, the Southern Indiana District Court said it is developing an alternative format for its naturalization ceremonies. Also, the federal court is reviewing its Continuity of Operations Plan and is following the guidance regarding the COVID-19 virus provided by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as state and local health departments.

The Southern Indiana District Court has protective equipment, such as facemasks, which it said it will distribute only to case participants, including jurors, showing signs of respiratory illness. Hand sanitizers and disinfecting wipes are available to court staff.

Likewise, the 7th Circuit has not made any changes to its operations, according to the appellate court. However, it is monitoring the outbreak and said it will take whatever steps are necessary as the situation evolves.

Law schools

Valparaiso University has announced it will be conducting all classes online starting Monday and plans to resume in-person classes April 13. Also, the university is limiting on-campus gatherings to no more than 100 people but is still planning to hold the law school commemoration April 24.

Indiana University announced Tuesday that it would be suspending all in-person classes on all campuses from March 23 to April 5. For those two weeks following the university’s spring break, classes and coursework will continue online.

The suspension includes both IU Maurer and Robert H. McKinney schools of law. They join a growing list of law schools, including Harvard, Stanford University, Columbia University, The Ohio State University, New York University and University of California Berkley, that have cancelled in-person classes or closed completely, according to the ABA Journal.

The University of Notre Dame, including Notre Dame Law School, announced Wednesday it would be canceling classes next week, March 16-20, and then begin online instruction March 23 through at least April 13.

The American Bar Association’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar issued a memo in February giving guidance to law schools for dealing with emergencies or disasters. As to moving classes online, the ABA advised that law schools must consider not only whether the course is appropriate for being taught via the internet but also whether faculty members have the experience and training and the school has the technological capacity to deliver distance education.

“Simply moving a classroom-based course to a video conference call or to a school’s learning management system that supports other courses may be relatively easy, but … may not be an appropriate accommodation compared to, for example, adding extra days to the term when a regular schedule can be resumed,” the memo stated.

Law firms

Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath reopened most of its offices Wednesday, the firm said in a statement, though its Washington offices remained closed for monitoring.

“On Tuesday, March 10, Faegre Drinker asked colleagues across all offices to work remotely after learning of a guest who visited our Washington, D.C. office on 1500 K Street on March 3 and was subsequently diagnosed with COVID-19, commonly known as coronavirus. We then learned of an additional guest in our Washington, D.C. office on March 2 who was also diagnosed with coronavirus following their visit to the firm. Because the scope of each guest’s contact with firm colleagues was not readily known, and because our attorneys, consultants and professionals have been traveling cross-office to support firm integration efforts, we chose to exercise caution while our leadership team evaluated the situation,” the firm said in announcing the reopening of most offices.

“The health and safety of Faegre Drinker’s colleagues, clients, visitors and their loved ones is a top priority. The firm’s executive leadership team acted quickly to protect those we care about, making time to gather key facts, assess risk and determine appropriate next steps. We received helpful advice from a board-certified infectious disease expert with specialized knowledge in communicable diseases, including coronavirus, and consulted with internal specialists. Additionally, we took the precautionary measure of engaging a specialized service to clean and disinfect each office prior to our colleagues returning,” the firm’s Wednesday statement said.

“The coronavirus condition is an ongoing and fluid situation across the globe, and our leadership team will continue to make decisions in real time to ensure the health and safety of our colleagues, clients, visitors and their loved ones. Our thoughts are with those who have been impacted by the virus, and with the health care providers working to combat this global health issue.”

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