Texas Supreme Court Issues Emergency Order Regarding COVID-19

Houston, TX – On Friday March 5, 2021, the Texas Supreme Court issued its thirty-sixth “Emergency Order Regarding the COVID-19 State of Disaster” allowing courts across the state to open for in-person proceedings. See Misc. Docket No. 21-9026. However, the order encourages remote hearings and trials when possible. The order also authorizes local courts to establish mask mandates and impose physical distancing measures on court property where appropriate.

The order specifically lifts the prohibition on in-person justice and municipal court proceedings, but also establishes the ability to hold these proceedings remotely. The order allows members of the public summoned for jury service to submit excusal requests if they, or someone they live with, have legitimate concerns for exposure to COVID-19, such as being in a high risk category. Appellate courts may also now resume in-person arguments, so long as the chief justice adopts certain health protocols to ensure the safety of court personnel and participants.

An effect of the COVID-19 pandemic and pause on in-person proceedings was a growing backlog of cases. Although a handful of courts held virtual trials for civil and low-level criminal cases in the fall, the suspension of in-person proceedings threatened judicial efficiency and constitutional rights to a speedy trial. The new order expires June 1st, unless extended by the chief justice. Justices Boyd, Devine and Blacklock dissented to the emergency order. The remaining 2020-21Supreme Court docket will be held remotely by zoom.

The Order can be accessed here: https://www.txcourts.gov/media/1451833/219026.pdf. If you would like to learn more about how this Order affects your case, the attorneys at McDowell Hetherington are ready to answer your questions. We will continue to monitor the impact the COVID-19 pandemic on litigation in Texas and throughout the country.

For more information, please contact David McDowell, William Thomas, and Erica Gibbons.