Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady is considering a move to relax the High Court’s administrative orders that implement COVID-19 health protocols in courthouses across the state.
Speaking to Florida Politics, Florida Supreme Court spokesperson Paul Flemming said Canady will “act in short order” and will “likely lessen requirements” such as mask mandates.
Guided by a COVID-19 work group, Canady since the onset of the pandemic has issued numerous health orders to courts that are independent of state and local guidance — underscoring the branch’s separation of powers.
The group, known as the Workgroup on the Continuity of Court Operations and Proceedings During and After COVID-19, was created to develop and recommend COVID-19 health guidance for courts.
Flemming said the group is “constantly monitoring” the state’s COVID-19 situation and “keenly aware” of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ latest repeal of local COVID-19 orders.
The order essentially undoes the patchwork of local health guidance implemented by cities and counties across the state.
Independently, Flemming emphasized, the group is considering a move to “reduce restrictiveness.”
“Courts are different and special because they can compel people to the court,” Flemming said.
The 9th Judicial Circuit highlighted the separation of powers on Tuesday in a social media post. The circuit serves Orange and Osceola counties in Central Florida.
“Florida courts are governed by the Florida Supreme Court, so we continue to follow all COVID safety protocols in our facilities — including requiring masks and social distancing — despite Governor DeSantis’ recent order,” the court posted on Linkedin.
The Supreme Court of Florida’s latest health guidance includes social distancing measures, face masks and health screenings. Court procedures in many instances have transitioned to the digital arena.
Mask orders may be rescinded under the upcoming guidance. However, they will likely remain permitted if an individual chooses to wear one, Flemming explained.
The COVID-19 pandemic ravaged courthouse operations nationwide and Florida is no exception. The backlog of pending court cases due to the pandemic could affect Florida’s court system for years.
The Legislature set aside $6 million in nonrecurring general revenue funds for the Clerk of Court Pandemic Recovery Plan.
The funds will provide courts resources to navigate a logjam of cases in the court system.