Phased Management Plan
Maine Courts are Currently in Phase 5:
Anticipated for November 9 onward
On July 31, the anticipated starting date for Phase 5 was changed to October 19, 2020 due to the anticipated inability of the Judicial Branch to effectively conduct jury trials in September while satisfying current CDC health and safety requirements. The Judicial Branch continues its efforts to formulate plans for the conduct of jury trials, but it is clear that existing resources and facilities will not be satisfactory during the month of September.
The Supreme Judicial Court has approved two or more pilot plan jury trials to take place during the month of September at the Capital Judicial Center and the Penobscot Judicial Center for the purposes of studying the unique needs and processes for jury trials during the COVID era. The Chief Justice of the Superior Court will supervise the planning and execution of the pilot projects.
On August 28, the anticipated starting date for Phase 5 was changed to November 9, 2020, due to the time required to evaluate the pilot jury trials conducted in September, to establish standard procedures, and to allow sufficient lead time for planning and preparation for jury trials in November.
On November 3, the Plan was augmented to acknowledge and explain the scheduling constraints that exist as a result of limited judicial resources and the necessity for adherence to the Judicial Branch's priority scheduling policy (See Addendum, below).
Required Conditions for Phase 5
- Entry screening to enforce the Judicial Branch Visitor Restrictions set forth in the Judicial Branch Notice dated April 8, 2020, must be available at the courthouse at all times that the courthouse is open to the public.
- Any person entering the courthouse must wear a cloth face covering that covers the nose and mouth at all times while in the courthouse pursuant to PMO-SJC-1. Hand sanitizer will be available at entrances and exits and must be used upon entering and exiting the building, and upon reentering the building after exiting.
- No more than 50 people may be present in any room or common area at any one time; social distancing requirements may further reduce maximum capacity limits in specific locations. Social distancing measures employed in each courthouse must be observed at all times. To the extent possible, court events will be scheduled at staggered times to prevent large numbers of people from entering and exiting a courthouse at any given time.
- Adequate staff and technology resources, and adequate personal protective equipment must be available at the courthouse.
- No person in custody will be permitted to enter the courthouse except in compliance with standard entry screening limitations and express prior arrangements or memorandum of understanding with the custodial facility that will adequately protect the public, courthouse staff, and the incarcerated person from infection.
- New conditions did not arise during the fourteen weeks of Phase 4 that require additional restrictions.
Attributes of Phase 5 when Required Conditions are Satisfied
- Courts will be open to the public from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
- Jury trials may be scheduled and held. Capacity controls will be adjusted to accommodate the special requirements for jury trials.
- Grand jury proceedings may be scheduled and held in person at courthouses. Capacity controls will be adjusted to accommodate the special requirements for grand jury proceedings.
- The following case types and proceedings may be scheduled or heard, pending establishment of standard procedures for addressing them:
- Small claims
- Land Use Violations (M.R. Civ. P. 80K)
- Court proceedings are subject to PMO-SJC-7, which establishes remote video or telephone hearings as the presumptive format for all but specifically excepted case types.
- All oral arguments scheduled before the Supreme Judicial Court, sitting as the Law Court, will be conducted by video conferencing until further notice by the Court.
Addendum to Phase 5 Attributes
Although all cases types and jury trials are permitted to be heard under the terms of Phase 5, the actual setting of any matter for trial or hearing remains subject to the Judicial Branch's longstanding priority scheduling policy. The extensive measures undertaken to provide safe and secure in-person proceedings have substantially limited the numbers of matters that can be addressed by the Judicial Branch. Video remote proceedings have alleviated to some degree the need for in-person hearings, but the courts simply cannot schedule or hear the same quantities of cases that occurred in pre-COVID times. This stark reality has caused and will continue to cause delays and will affect rates of closure.
Priority cases typically involve matters where individuals are in danger of being hurt or constitutional liberty interests are at stake. Currently, those matters require almost all available court scheduling time and resources including judicial officers, clerks, marshals, courtrooms, and IT staff, hardware, and infrastructure. Given this reality, matters that do not occupy the top tiers of the priority list, such as money judgments, disclosures, small claims, land use violations, and other civil matters, will not be scheduled or heard before 2021. At this time, the Judicial Branch is not able to establish when those matters will be scheduled.2 Additionally, foreclosures will not be scheduled or heard before February 28, 2021.
Finally, because jury trials during the COVID era require significant diversions of limited security and facility resources, the scheduling of jury trials will be limited to criminal matters, and will be the subject of a comprehensive plan to be promulgated in the near future.
2 PMO-SJC-1 allows for matters to be specially scheduled during the period of pandemic management at the discretion of a court upon a demonstration of urgent and compelling reasons.