COVID-19 led to significant changes for Texas municipal courts. One excellent resource for information from the Office of Court Administration (OCA) is the Texas Judicial Branch home page at txcourts.gov. On the page, you will find links to all COVID-19 information at the top of the Announcements Box.
Included in the Announcements box are links to:
- All Emergency Orders still in effect
- Information on Zoom Hearings
- Court Guidance
- Operating Plans
- Court YouTube Channels
Emergency Order 17
Of the five emergency orders still in effect, Emergency Order 17 contains pertinent information for municipal courts. Read the full order here. Some especially important portions for municipal courts are:
- Municipal courts may modify or suspend any and all deadlines and procedures until no later than September 30, 2020.
- Municipal courts may allow or require anyone involved in any proceedings of any kind to participate remotely, such as by teleconferencing, videoconferencing, or other means.
- Prior to holding any in-person proceedings on or after June 1, 2020, all courts must submit an operating plan consistent with OCA’s Guidance for All Court Proceedings During COVID-19 Pandemic. Even after submitting a plan, courts must continue to use all reasonable efforts to conduct proceedings remotely.
Zoom Information and YouTube Support
OCA has provided Zoom accounts for all State of Texas Judges. On the Zoom information page, judges can request access, watch a webinar on using Zoom (also avaliable on TMCEC’s OLC here, for Judicial Credit), and find an impressive bank of resources for handling remote court appearances successfully.
This page offers guidance for courts, as well as an operating plan template. If you haven’t completed your operating plan yet, the operating plan template is a wonderful place to start. Essentially, it is a word document with clickable fields where you can enter specifics regarding your court. Important takeaways from the court guidance are as follows:
- All municipal courts must submit an operating plan to the Regional Presiding Judge for the appropriate administrative judicial region in order to hold non-essential in-person proceedings. This is the responsibility of the court’s presiding judge. If the court only has one judge, then consider that judge to be the presiding judge. This is a requirement for all courts, not just courts of record.
- Plans should be developed with and approved by mayors and the city’s local health authority.
- Plans must be submitted prior to holding in-person proceedings.
- All proceedings should occur remotely unless court users are unable to successfully participate in a remote hearing for reasons beyond the court’s control. In other words, the court itself should not be the reason remote proceedings don’t occur.
Please get to know these resources and use them, along with TMCEC’s own COVID-19 resources!