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District court jury trials, criminal dockets canceled

90th District Court cancels trials with exceptions

Young and Stephens County 90th District Judge, Stephen Bristow, canceled all jury trials and criminal dockets Friday until May 8 as a way to limit large gatherings which could spread COVID-19 and to comply with the local and state declarations.

According to the release from Bristow, any matters set on jury trial weeks will be rescheduled to the weeks of May or June 2020. All of the district court criminal dockets are canceled with the exception of those with application for Writs of Habeas Corpus, Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 17 bond hearings, time sensitive hearings required to be performed by an appellate court, matters in which the person is incarcerated and expected to plea and the plea results in the defendant being released from custody or any other matters “determined essential to the administration of justice and protection of the accused constitutional rights as determined by the judge after discussion with the 90th Judicial District Attorney’s Office and Counsel for the Defendant.”

Before an appearance in court, everyone involved with the case (attorneys, witnesses and other participants) must notify the court of a suspected or confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19, flu-like symptoms, fever, coughing, sneezing, any condition or circumstance which may result in a compromised or diminished immune system and if they have traveled to any foreign country or any area within the country that has a confirmed COVID-19 case. Notice of these conditions can be made by email to the court coordinator of the court hearing the case.

Bristow said in the release that the guidelines will not prohibit public access to the court pursuant to the open courts provision of the constitution. For those wanting to attend a hearing being held at court, over the phone, electronically, or by other means, can contact the court to obtain information on observing a hearing.

“Your understanding and cooperation are greatly appreciated during this time,” Bristow wrote. “The District Court shall continue to monitor the developments of COVID-19 as well as recommendations and guidance from the Center for Disease Control, and will make adjustments to these guidelines as necessary.”

All matters canceled during the effective period will be reset and notice will be provided to all the appropriate parties or entities, according to the release.

“Ordering continuances of pending trials and other matters serves the best interest of the public, serves the ends of justice, and outweighs defendants’ rights under the speedy-trial provision and under the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act,” Bristow wrote in the release.

All civil or family law hearings which are pending are also canceled during the effective period and will be rescheduled after that period.

Proceedings which will be heard during the effective period include:

• Department of Family and Protective Services removal hearings
• Juvenile detention hearings
• Texas Family Code Title 4 family violence and protective orders
• Texas Family Chapter 157 enforcements if a respondent is in custody
• Texas Family Code Chapter 157, Subchapter H - habeas corpus and writs of attachment for children
• Family law matters seeking emergency relief, if they are determined necessary by the court after reviewing any attach affidavits
• Any temporary restraining order or temporary injunctions which must be supported by testimony

In family law cases in which a temporary order has not been entered, the judge has a standing temporary order until a final hearing is held. The temporary order will be attached to any newly filed family law matter to inform the parties of the orders.

The orders include a specification for spring break visitation and states the school district’s additional school closure after the holiday will not extend a parent’s period of possession beyond the week of the holiday as originally dated in the district’s calendar. All visitation will be exercised as if school was still in session and includes summer holidays and notification requirements.

“A denial of visitation will be subject to court enforcement by contempt or writs necessary to enforce current court orders,” Bristow wrote in the release.

When appropriate and at the discretion of the court, they will consider evidence sworn statements which are made outside of court or sworn testimony given remotely, such as by teleconferencing, video conferencing or other means available. Those who want to conduct a hearing by telephone or other electronic means have to obtain a written agreement with all of the opposing counsel and the written permission from the court.

“Any hearings conducted by telephonic of other electronic means will be recorded by the Official Court reporter or must be accompanied with a written waiver of record filed with the clerk of the court prior to the start of any hearing,” Bristow wrote in the release.

The Graham Leader

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