FRANKFORT, Ky., Oct. 29, 2020 – The Supreme Court issued new guidelines to the state court system today as COVID-19 cases continue to surge in Kentucky and across the country.
“Health experts have warned that this fall and winter will be the darkest days of the pandemic,” Chief Justice of Kentucky John D. Minton Jr. said in an email to justices, judges, circuit court clerks and court employees. “I want to encourage all of you to remain vigilant and take the necessary precautions to protect yourselves, your co-workers and the people we serve.”
The Judicial Branch’s current health and safety guidelines and procedures for certain court proceedings can be found in Supreme Court Administrative Orders 2020-63 and 2020-64.
Chief Justice Minton said that maintaining court services depends on judges, circuit court clerks and court employees complying with public health guidelines and requiring the same of everyone who enters court facilities. That’s even more important when counties move into the “red zone,” which measures the prevalence of the virus in the community and the likelihood of increased transmission.
To ensure the court system is taking the necessary precautions based on each county’s status, the Supreme Court has approved the following considerations for court officials:
Guidelines for Red-Zone Monitoring by County
The Supreme Court guidelines encourage court officials to check their county’s COVID status on a weekly basis on the Kentucky Coronavirus Monitoring Map. If their county falls into a COVID “red zone,” which is defined as 25 or more cases per 100,000, the following recommendations apply:
Court Proceedings. All court proceedings should be conducted remotely.
Jury Trials. Jury trials should be postponed until the county returns to the yellow zone.
Offices of Circuit Court Clerk. Circuit court clerks should close their offices to in-person services. All filings should be mailed, eFiled or conventionally filed using a drop box provided outside the judicial facility. All payments for court costs, fines, fees and restitution should be made by money order mailed to the Office of Circuit Court Clerk or by cash or credit card by calling the office.
Access to Court Facilities. Access to court facilities should be limited to attorneys and parties required to attend emergency, in-person hearings and individuals seeking emergency protective orders, interpersonal protective orders and emergency custody orders.
Masks and Social Distancing. Proper use of facial coverings and social distancing while in court facilities should be strictly enforced.
Teleworking. All court employees who are able to telework should be encouraged to do so.
“I have been impressed time and again since March as I’ve watched you do whatever it takes to keep the courts open and serving the public,” Chief Justice Minton said in his message. “That kind of long-term determination is difficult to sustain and yet you get up every day and do it all over again. Thank you for mustering up the fortitude and commitment to continue our important work.”
Supreme Court of Kentucky
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 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.