Updates in red

Due to the global pandemic of COVID-19, a public health emergency has been declared in the United States.  Experts say that one of the most effective ways to protect against this disease is to limit the risk of exposure.  This has prompted the “Stay at Home” movement for many Americans, but many judicial matters still need prompt attention during this time.  Varying regulations have been put into place for the different courts throughout Nebraska and Iowa that attempt to balance the global health threat with the need for continued access to the judicial system.  Will your case or matter be affected by these emergency response plans by the courts?

 

NEBRASKA STATE COURTS

  • On December 16, 2020, the Chief Justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court issued an order waiving the requirements for in-person continuing legal education for 2021, which allows attorneys to obtain all required CLE in a computer and remote manner.
  • On August 6, the Governor approved LB 912, which allows judges to permit, for good cause, the oral examination of witnesses by telephonic, videoconferencing, or similar methods in civil cases. [For full text of the order, please visit https://nebraskalegislature.gov/FloorDocs/106/PDF/Final/LB912.pdf]
  • An executive order in April 2020 implementing the Online Notary Public Act early, and the Act went into effect by its own right on July 1, 2020.  Online notarial acts that an online notary public can perform are acknowledgements, jurats, verifications or proofs and oaths or affirmations. Rev. Stat. § 64-408.  The document signer does not need to be located in Nebraska when signing in front of a Nebraska online notary public.  Neb. Rev. Stat. § 64-411.
  • The Chief Justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court has ordered that no court shall close unless an order declaring a nonjudicial day has been issued. However, each court shall continue its own emergency preparedness plan.
    • Additionally, any party to a case shall notify opposing counsel and the court if they reasonably suspect a participant in a judicial proceeding falls under a category for elevated risk of COVID-19.
      • People with an elevated risk of COVID-19 include those who have symptoms of COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone who has COVID-19, those who have traveled to a Level 3 country in the last 14 days, and those who have been asked to quarantine by any public official or healthcare provider.
  • On November 10, the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court released an order in accordance with the above mentioned Nebraska Supreme Court’s Administrative Order.
    • This order provides Workers’ Compensation legal proceedings outside of Douglas or Lancaster Counties shall take place in a courtroom large enough to practice social distancing. If a courtroom is unavailable, the venue may be transferred or the proceedings may be conducted via video conference.
    • In addition, two days prior to a live legal proceeding, attorneys shall notify the judicial assistant of the judge of the expected number of witnesses and spectators.
    • As of December 28, 2020, this order is to remain in effect until otherwise ordered.

[Please note that if the Nebraska court you are seeking information about is not a county included in this summary, please visit https://supremecourt.nebraska.gov/nebraska-judicial-branch-emergency-status-information/orders for applicable judicial orders.]

  • In the Fourth Judicial District (Douglas County):
    • The County Court of Douglas County:
      • Criminal and traffic jury and bench trials and pretrial hearings are suspended until after March 1, 2021. Cases currently scheduled for trial in January and February of 2021 will be continued by written order for good cause.
      • Civil jury and bench trials are suspended until after March 1, 2021. Cases currently scheduled for trial in January and February of 2021 will be continued to a future date by written order.  Civil motions and pretrial hearings are likewise suspended.
      • Small claims trials are suspended until after March 1, 2021.
      • Restitution and garnishment hearings will be conducted in person, on the record, at dates and times set by the court.
      • Harassment and protection order hearings will occur in person, on the record, attended only by essential persons, at dates and times set by the court.
      • Ex parte and contested probate hearings are suspended until after March 1, 2021.
      • Adoption hearings will occur in person, attended only by essential persons, on the date and times set by the court.
      • Expedited or emergency probate hearings may be heard via WebEx or other video conferencing if requested and by agreement of parties with prior permission of the court.
    • The District Court of Douglas County:
      • All criminal and civil jury trials scheduled to commence between January 4, 2021 and February 28, 2021 are continued to the next available jury trial selection date.
      • Commencing January 4, 2021 through February 28, 2021, the Douglas County District Court will implement the following protocols:
        • The Hall of Justice will have restricted public access. All persons in a courtroom (limit 10) will be socially distanced by six feet and wear a mask.  
        • Criminal pre-trial hearings will take place by audiovisual device.
        • Domestic cases that involve child custody disputes will take place as scheduled in person or by an audiovisual platform.
        • Domestic cases involving asset or property disputes will be conducted by an audiovisual platform.
        • All civil bench trials that have already been scheduled for trial may take place as scheduled in person or by an audiovisual platform at the discretion of the court. No new civil bench trials will be scheduled during this period. 
        • All summary judgment motions will occur via audiovisual device. Courts are strongly encouraged to continue complex motions involving voluminous exhibits to March 2021.
      • Jury Panels for criminal and civil jury trials will be reinstated for January 2021, February 2021, March 2021, April 2021, May 2021, and June 2021.
      • The Fourth Judicial District will reinstate the January 2021 Jury Panels for criminal and civil jury trials only subject to authorization at a later date. [These orders are limited to scheduled proceedings listed at https://supremecourt.nebraska.gov/sites/default/files/Administration/emergency/DC4-order-criminal-jury-trials.pdf and https://supremecourt.nebraska.gov/sites/default/files/Administration/emergency/DC-4-civil-jury-trials.pdf.]

 

  • In the Third Judicial District (Lancaster County):
    • The District Court of Lancaster County:
      • People entering the Hall of Justice will have their temperatures taken and questions asked regarding possible exposure to and symptoms of COVID-19.
      • The use of face coverings or masks is required when seeking entry to or occupying the District Court courtrooms.
      • Additionally, social distancing measures must be observed (six feet away from any person not an immediate household member).
      • The District Court of Lancaster County is limiting simultaneous physical presence in the courtroom to no more than ten persons, consisting of judiciary and staff, lawyers and parties, and witnesses called into courtrooms only as needed.
      • Exhibits to be offered at a hearing/trial must be emailed to the court reporter at least 24 hours in advance; they will be pre-printed and marked by the court reporter prior to the hearing.
      • If multiple hearings are set at or near the same time, only one set of counsel/litigants shall enter the courtroom at a time.
      • As of November 23, 2020, civil trials will be continued on or after January 4, 2021 and criminal trials will be determined on a case-by-case basis.
        • All criminal pre-trial hearings, evidentiary hearings on Motions to Suppress, and sentencing hearings will take place via video conferencing.
        • Any new civil bench trials shall be scheduled on or after January 4, 2021, unless parties agree to video conferencing. All hearings on civil pre-trial motions will be conducted via video conferencing with evidence submitted in advance of the hearing.
        • To request an in-person hearing, a party shall file a motion and contact the court’s bailiff to set the motion for hearing.
    • The County Court of Lancaster County:
      • The use of masks or other suitable face coverings are required to enter courtrooms.
      • Social distancing of six feet shall be practiced, and each courtroom has delineated with colored tape the designated spaces to sit and stand.
      • Only the judge, court staff, litigants, and parents/guardians (in the case of a minor or incompetent litigant) are allowed in the courtrooms.
      • As of November 12, 2020, all criminal and traffic trials and hearings for Motion to Suppress are suspended until on or after January 4, 2021. Preliminary hearings may be conducted via Zoom or in person.
      • Civil jury trials, jury pre-trial conferences, and Small Claims trials are also suspended until on or after January 4, 2021.

 

  • In the Second Judicial District (Sarpy and Cass Counties):
    • The District Courts of the Second Judicial District have suspended jury service. The most recent order states that any juror summoned for grand or petit juries for the Second Judicial District is excused from service for the month of January 2021.  However, this order applies only to the District Courts for the Second Judicial District.  Therefore, jurors are not excused from service in the County Court.
    • The Office of the District Court is open to the public by appointment only.
    • The Juvenile Court of Sarpy County have continued all matters currently pending to a future date to be determined by the Court.

 

IOWA STATE COURTS

  • Custody trials may be held by video conference by consent of the parties. On motion by a party and for good cause, the court, in its discretion, may allow a custody trial or hearing by video conference over the objection of the other party after an opportunity to be heard.
  • The Iowa Supreme Court temporarily modified Iowa Court Rule 31.3(1)(a) to allow the February 2021 Iowa Bar Exam to be administered remotely. Applicants who have registered for the February Bar Exam may withdraw their applications and defer fees to the July Bar Exam or receive a refund.
  • Trial courts have discretion to conduct nonjury trails by video conference or telephone with the parties’ consent. In-person hearings and trials must be scheduled to comply with safety protocols.
  • Courts shall require everyone entering court-controlled areas to wear masks. Face shields are no longer considered an appropriate substitute.  However, face shields will be provided to persons speaking during evidentiary hearings and trials, including the judge, attorneys, and witnesses for in-person proceedings.
  • The appellate courts have resumed in-person oral arguments. However, the courts are also allowed to conduct oral arguments through videoconference or telephone through June 30, 2021.
  • All jury trials that have not commenced as of November 16, 2020 and that are scheduled to begin before February 1, 2021, shall be continued to a date no earlier than February 1, 2021.
  • All grand jury proceedings shall be suspended until February 1, 2021.
  • District courts shall continue to conduct in-person business for criminal matters that cannot be continued or conducted by videoconference or telephone and emergency matters that cannot be conducted by videoconference or telephone.
  • To the extent any limitations period for bringing a foreclosure action or executing on a foreclosure judgment would have run during a federal moratorium expiring August 31, that limitations period shall be extended for a period of 76 days from August 31, i.e., through November 15.
  • All cases currently subject to dismissal under rule 1.944(2) if not tried before January 1, 2021 are provided a onetime, one-year automatic extension of the deadline for commencement of trial through December 31, 2021.
  • The statute of limitations or similar deadline for commencing an action in district court is tolled by 76 days, from March 17 to June 1. (Tolling means you add that amount of time to the statute of limitations, so the statute of limitations will run 76 days later).
  • The Court will temporarily allow a person to sign a civil court document electronically with “/s/” followed by the person’s typed full name, or with “/person’s name/.”  Attorneys are permitted through June 30, 2021 to sign civil court documents for their clients with “/s/” if the attorney has received oral verification from the client that (a) the client desires to sign the document, (b) the client authorizes the attorney to sign on the client’s behalf, and (c) the client understands that the signature will bind the client as if the client personally signed the document.  Such a signature binds the client as if the client signed the document personally.

FEDERAL COURTS

  •  In the US District Court for the District of Nebraska, face coverings are required and anyone who has an elevated risk of transmitting COVID-19 shall not be allowed to enter the courthouse unless that person is given permission to enter by an official of the agency with which the person has business.
    • All civil and criminal jury trials scheduled to commence on or before January 31, 2021 are continued pending further order of the court.
    • Other in-court hearings shall remain scheduled unless continued on a case-by-case basis.
    • Case progression deadlines in civil cases shall remain set, pending any case-specific adjustments to be made on motion from the parties or on the Court’s own motion.
    • The authority to conduct criminal proceedings by video teleconference or telephone conference is extended through March 23, 2021.
  • The US Bankruptcy Court for the District of Nebraska will continue to hold most court hearings telephonically and limit the number of individuals in the courtroom.
  • The US District Court for the Southern District of Iowa has continued all civil and criminal jury trials scheduled through October 12, 2020.
    • All those entering the United States Courthouses in Council Bluffs, Des Moines, and Davenport must wear an appropriate face covering.
  • The US District Court for the Northern District of Iowa will begin conducting jury trials effective June 1, 2020.  The presiding judge will give due consideration to any party desiring a continuance of a jury trial scheduled on or after June 1, 2020, due to public health concerns.
    • Effective August 3, 2020, all those entering the United States Courthouses in Sioux City and Cedar Rapids must wear an appropriate face covering.
  • Oral arguments for the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit will be conducted by videoconference for the sessions to be held on December 14-18, 2020; January 11-15, 2021; February 15-19, 2021; and March 15-19, 2021.
    • Effective July 6, the requirement of paper briefs has been reinstated, and the filing of these paper copies is no longer deferred.

 

LINKS TO RELEVANT ORDERS

NEBRASKA

 

 

 

 

IOWA

 

FEDERAL

 

 

 

If you have questions about the above information, please give Partner Attorney, Jason Grams a call at 402-397-7300.