Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Florida Courts Remain Closed

This week, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Florida acted on the recommendations of a statewide Court Continuity Workgroup, issuing an amended administrative emergency order increasing the list of proceedings state courts will accomplish by remote technology during the Coronavirus pandemic. As such, jury trials in Florida are suspended until July 2nd and other deadlines are pushed back until following the July 4th holiday weekend. The court recognized that in-person jury trials pose a special hazard because they can expose jurors and other courtroom participants to a risk of infection. Future extensions will be considered, if needed. Of interest to followers of this blog, the order especially focuses on increasing the resolution of cases by shifting as many of them as possible into a virtual environment with remote technology, and specifically "Alternative Dispute Resolution proceedings." Case types listed in the order will be held by telephone or other electronic means. Of course, online ADR or ODR has been in full effect since this all started using various existing commercial platforms like WebEx, Zoom and GotoMeeting. Additionally, the Continuity Workgroup that I blogged about last month was asked to submit recommendations as they are developed to guide a phased return to full court operations. The expanded list of essential proceedings adds to earlier efforts to mitigate the impact of Coronavirus while letting courts operate in a way consistent with public safety. Florida’s courts have followed emergency guidelines since a March 13th order, when jury trials were first suspended and actions restricting in-person proceedings were implemented to enforce social distancing. Subsequent orders extended these limits through the end of May, subject to future orders made necessary by the pandemic. Chaired by Orlando Circuit Judge Lisa Munyon, the Court Continuity Workgroup’s mission includes examining the current status of all court proceedings statewide and proposing methods for resolving cases with remote technology and other new procedures that may remain when all this is over. According to the court, the move toward more virtual proceedings is a major historical shift in state court operations, which have relied heavily on in-person hearings in the 175 years Florida has been a state. See more in the latest Administrative Order here-- https://tinyurl.com/yb7jypo9

Monday, May 4, 2020

Small Claims ODR Pilot Begins

The Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida begins its free Small Claims Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) program this month in Orange County. If both parties provide an email address on file with the court in a case that qualifies for ODR, the court will notify them of the availability to use ODR to resolve the case. The email will also provide instructions on how to register with the Online Dispute Resolution Center located at the custom domain found here-- https://flcourts09sc.modria.com. There, the plaintiff will answer some questions about the case. The court will then send the defendant an email. The defendant should review the information and provide a response. If a solution can't be found with the other person, either can ask for help from a real mediator (Surprise, AI not quite the end-all be-all yet!). A mediator is a certified specialist trained to help litigants in County Court reach a resolution. There is no longer a need to appear for a Pretrial Conference Mediation date if the parties reach a signed agreement using the Online Resolution Center. Timeliness matters in this process which must be completed at least 10 calendar days before the Pretrial Conference Mediation date. If parties do not complete the process by the deadline, they will need to appear for the assigned Pretrial Conference Mediation date. This process comes about via the court being an existing licensee of software like Odyssey from Tyler Technologies. Specifically, they are allowing the use and integration of Modria, which has a demonstrated record of resolving small dollar consumer cases in online commerce. I spoke to representatives of the public company last year and they plan to expand in other jurisdictions. See more here-- ow.ly/yJ5w50zu80h and https://tinyurl.com/yafdrm63