With the outbreak of COVID-19, state and local governments are responding with their own policies and procedures to protect the health and welfare of our communities. Our firm has locations in Nueces, Travis, Harris, and Bexar Counties. See below for a summary of the different policies and procedures each of these counties and the Texas Supreme Court have adopted to handle the impact the COVID-19 outbreak is having on the courts. Branscomb Law is ready to help you navigate and access our courts during this public health crisis.
Supreme Court of Texas – The Supreme Court adopted its “First Emergency Order Regarding the Covid-19 State of Disaster ” on March 13, 2020. The Order is effective March 13, 2020 through May 8, 2020 and gives Texas courts the discretion to modify or suspend deadlines and procedures for up to 30 days after the Governor’s state of disaster declaration has been lifted. Additionally, it authorizes courts to allow teleconferencing or videoconferencing. It also allows courts to consider as evidence any sworn statements made out of court or any sworn testimony given remotely, such as by teleconferencing, videoconferencing, or other means.
Nueces County – Nueces has issued a “Resolution for the Next Eight Weeks Regarding Cancellation of Jury Trials and Non-Essential Hearings in the District Courts and.” This Resolution cancels all jury trials scheduled for the weeks of March 23, 2020 through May 25, 2020. It provides that only essential civil, family, and criminal cases will be heard by the district courts and county courts at law during the next eight weeks. Essential cases include certain family law cases, applications for temporary restraining orders, requests for temporary injunctions, and applications for mental health warrants, among other things.
Nueces district and county court judges do not want parties to unfairly stall cases or be unable to prepare for trial, so Nueces also issued an “Order Regarding Remote Participation in Videoconferenced Depositions and/or those Telephonically Recorded.” Nueces also issued a set of procedures to allow for depositions to be taken remotely, either by telephone or videoconferencing.
Bexar County – Bexar has issued an “Order Regarding Settings in Presiding Civil District Court and Jury Monitoring Court.” The presiding docket is limited to essential matters only for the period from March 17, 2020 to March 30, 2020. “Essential matters” is defined within the Order to include (but is not limited to) a number of family law proceedings, requests for Temporary Restraining Orders, and Temporary Injunctions.
Travis County – Travis has issued an “Emergency Order for All Travis County Civil and Family Courts ”. The Order says that all in-person non-emergency hearings are suspended until April 13, 2020. This includes all jury, nonjury, and non-essential hearings. All non-emergency hearings must be rescheduled through the court administrator’s office. Parties may submit agreed or non-evidentiary matters for submission to the court to review. In addition, emergency matters will be heard by the Duty Judge. Emergency matters include family violence protective orders, temporary restraining orders and temporary injunctions. If a party feels their matter is truly an emergency, they must contact the Court Administration Office and wait for a reply before appearing in person at the courthouse.
Harris County – Harris County has issued several orders. The Harris County Civil Courts have issued a “Joint Statement Regarding Jury Trials and Hearings ”. The Joint Statement cancels all jury trials through the March 31, 2020. Each county civil court maintains its own discretion on a case-by-case basis regarding bench trials. The courts request that litigants move all oral hearings that do not require live testimony or an oral hearing to the submission docket, and reset all other hearings for a date in April 2020.
The Harris County Civil Courts at Law issued additional procedures titled “Harris County Civil Courts at Law Inclement Weather, Emergency, and Public Health Scheduling Procedures” effective March 16, 2020. All parties are encouraged to submit contested motions on a submission docket or determine if telephone or video conferencing is available as an alternative.
The Harris County District Courts have issued an “Alternate Schedule.” They have suspended jury service from March 13, 2020 to March 31, 2020. The Alternate Schedule is effective until May 8, 2020, or until the Board of District Judges amends or suspends it. It also provides for the following:
- All submission dockets and telephonic/video hearings will proceed as scheduled.
- All previously set, non-essential in-person, oral (non-telephonic) hearings and dockets are cancelled.
- Courts will consider conducting an oral (non-telephonic) hearing if: (1) all parties agree that such a hearing is necessary; (2) the parties file an agreed motion requesting an oral hearing; and (3) the motion sets forth a compelling reason supporting the request and explains why no other means is adequate to resolve the issue for which the parties seek an oral hearing.
- All essential court matters, including temporary restraining orders and temporary injunctions, will proceed as scheduled. The parties must contact the specific court regarding the details of when and where the hearing will proceed. If a party believes their hearing needs to be classified as an “Essential Matter,” they must contact the court.
If you have questions concerning this topic or other matters related to Texas courts, please contact Amanda Torres, litigation lawyer with Branscomb Law, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (361) 886-3800.