ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - It’s a place often associated with criminal trials, but the Orange County Courthouse is also where people dispute traffic tickets, get their marriage license and handle domestic conflicts and civil cases.
Like everything else, the courts have had to change due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We recognize the role that the courts play in individual’s lives and we need to be responsive to those things,” said Judge Donald Myers, chief judge of the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida.
To keep the courts moving forward, visitors are now required to wear a mask.
They also must undergo a health screening and temperature check.
Inside the courthouse, physical distancing is being maintained with one-way traffic and floor markers.
Bench trials have resumed, but it’s all being done via video conference.
Orange County Courthouse. (FOX 35 Orlando)
A jury holding room is now a virtual courtroom.
It’s just one space serving as a courtroom.
Space is dedicated for the client and attorney to present their case to the judge, who’s in an entirely different room.
“They can present their testimony, present any documents they want through a document camera, a full evidentiary set-up, so while they are in the courthouse, not directly in front of a judge,” Judge Myers said.
Some judges are hearing cases from home.
“We had a judge recently try a five-day domestic case by video conference,” Judge Myers said.
There are no jury trials just yet.
Myers tells FOX 35 that cases are stacking up.
“We’re experiencing a pretty significant backlog of jury cases that need to be tried. At this point, we have in excess of more than a year of jury trial days that need to be caught up on the backend of this,” Judge Myers said.
The judge expects the first jury trials to be done virtually.
“They can remain safely distanced, be able to hear the evidence in an effective way. Ultimately [they will be] brought back here to be able to hear closing arguments and make a final decision in the case,” Judge Myers said.
The court is awaiting approval from the Florida Supreme Court to begin jury trials.
That decision will be based on local COVID-19 numbers.