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  • Eviction Case Issues - Updated 4/3/20

    • Click here for best practices on holding remote hearings with self-represented litigants.

      Here are some ways to protect your Zoom meetings from being hacked: 

      1. Disable Guest Screen Sharing. By restricting screen sharing to the host, you can prevent anyone else from being able to display what is on their desktop.
      2. Require the Host to Be Present.
      3. Keep Your Personal Meeting ID Private.
      4. Use a Password.
      5. Use The Waiting Room.

       

      Check out these articles for more information

      https://www.inc.com/jason-aten/hackers-are-trying-to-get-into-your-zoom-meetings-here-are-5-ways-to-stop-them.html

      https://www.foxbusiness.com/technology/securely-host-zoom-meeting

    • The CARES Act was signed by President Trump on March 27, 2020, and took effect that same day. Section 4024 is the Temporary Eviction Moratorium section that is most relevant. Click here to read that section.

      In short, it applies to all housing programs to which VAWA applies (public housing, project-based section 8, Housing Choice Vouchers, LIHTC, etc.) as well as the rural voucher program and properties with federally-backed mortgages (HUD, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac; more detailed definitions are in that section). The effects include:

      • No nonpayment evictions can be filed in any of these covered properties for 120 days from the effective date, which means until July 25.

      • No notices to vacate for nonpayment may be issued in any of these properties until after the 120-day period expires, AND such NTV must be for at least 30 days (so it couldn't expire sooner than Aug. 24).

      • These covered properties may not charge late fees/other penalties for late payment during the 120-day period.

      • The 30-day NTV requirement does not have an end date, and it is not limited to nonpayment cases. So other types of lease breaches during the 120-day period require a 30-day NTV, and all breaches (nonpayment and otherwise) after July 25 require a 30-day NTV.

      The federal eviction moratorium does not affect the following:

      - Eviction cases that were filed before March 27, 2020;
      - Eviction cases with purely private landlords with none of the funding described above; or
      - Eviction cases in which the grounds for eviction are alleged non-rent breaches.

    • On March 19, the Texas Supreme Court issued an order stopping all residential eviction cases other than those where there is imminent threat of criminal activity or harm to the plaintiff, the plaintiff's employees, or other tenants. These restrictions apply regardless of whether any steps occurred before this order, including filing of the case, issuance of citation, or rendering of judgment. All pending cases must be placed on hold.

      While courts should still accept filings, this order prohibits issuing citations or holding trials until April 19th. It prohibits executing writs of possession until April 26th. All deadlines are on hold under this order.

      Please see our Tech Tools and Zoom webinars on this page for some possible solutions for holding remote hearings. The Supreme Court has prohibited holding non-essential cases with more people present than allowed under local, state, and federal gathering restrictions, currently ten people in Texas.

    • The Supreme Court's March 19th order stopping residential eviction cases has an exception for cases where the tenant's conduct is either criminal activity or is an "imminent threat" to the health and safety of the plaintiff, plaintiff's employee, or other tenants.

      If your court has one of these cases, the judge must enter an order detailing the procedures and timeframes for the case to proceed. Travis County has developed a standing order describing a specific procedure, including forms, which you may wish to either adopt or consider when adopting your own practices and orders.

      Travis County's procedural steps are:
      1) Filing of a specific petition that alleges imminent threat.
      2) An electronic or telephonic hearing determining whether imminent threat exists.
      3) If imminent threat exists, set the case for electronic/telephonic trial, and proceed as normal, with safety precautions in place.
      4) If imminent threat does not exist, set the case for trial after May 8, 2020.
      5) If bad faith petition filed, impose sanctions/hold contempt hearing for plaintiff.

      Click here for Travis County's "imminent threat" eviction standing order.Travis County forms:
      Petition
      Finding of Imminent Threat
      Finding of No Imminent Threat
      Judgment
      Citation
      Citation w/Immediate Possession Bond
      Hearing Notice ​​​​​​​

    • Courts may not issue residential eviction citations or hold residential eviction hearings (other than "imminent threat" evictions) until at least April 19, 2020 under the order issued by the Texas Supreme Court on March 19th. Click here to read this order.

      Constables may not post writ of possession warnings or execute writs of possession in residential evictions (other than "imminent threat" evictions) until at least April 26th, 2020.

      Courts are authorized to postpone all deadlines as necessary under the Supreme Court's Emergency Order until the 30th day after Gov. Abbott lifts his declaration of disaster.

      This means that the MINIMUM delay is until April 19th, and the MAXIMUM delay of deadlines is the 30th day after the disaster is lifted. As long as any orders or practices meet both of these limits, they are legal and appropriate.

    • While commercial evictions are not affected by the March 19th Eviction Order by the Texas Supreme Court, they are still considered "non-essential" proceedings. This means they should be delayed if necessary for the court to hold any essential proceedings. Also they must be delayed if necessary to protect the health and safety of the public, court staff, parties, constable and staff, and others. 

      As in any proceeding during this time, the court should be proceeding with electronic or telephonic hearings, and should accept electronic evidence. Please see our Tech Tools and Zoom webinars on this page for information on how your court may hold remote hearings and meetings.

    • On March 18, 2020, President Trump announced that HUD (The Department of Housing and Urban Development) has suspended eviction and foreclosure proceedings until April 30, 2020. While this order does not expressly prohibit courts from proceeding with non-HUD eviction cases, it is an indicator of how seriously government on all levels is taking both the health-related and economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many counties have suspended eviction proceedings, along with other hearings that cannot be accomplished electronically.

      On March 19, 2020, the Texas Supreme Court issued an order stopping most eviction procedures. Please see the info on this page for details.

  • TJCTC Coronavirus Webinars - Updated 4/1/20

  • Conducting Magistrations - Updated 4/1/20

    • On March 29, 2020, Governor Greg Abbott issued Executive Order GA-13 prohibiting the release of a defendant on a personal bond if the defendant is currently arrested for (with a finding of probable cause), or was previously convicted of, a crime that involves physical violence or the threat of physical violence.

      How Do I Know if The Defendant Has Prior Violence-Related Convictions?
      Convictions should be considered if they are found in criminal history records or contained in the complaint or probable cause affidavit.

      Effect of the Governor’s Order
      The Governor’s Executive Order applies to the following articles of the Code of Criminal Procedure:

      • Art. 17.03 is suspended to the extent necessary to preclude the release on personal bond of any person previously convicted of a crime that involves physical violence or the threat of physical violence, or of any person currently arrested for such a crime that is supported by probable cause.

      • Art. 17.151 is suspended to the extent necessary to prevent any person’s automatic release on personal bond because the State is not ready for trial.

      • Art. 15.21 is suspended to the extent necessary to prevent any person’s automatic release on personal bond because the jail of the county where the offense is alleged to have been committed does not take charge of the arrested person before the 11th day after the date the person is committed to the jail of the county in which the person is arrested.

      The Executive Order does not prevent the release of a defendant on a personal bond for any offense other than those involving physical violence or the threat of physical violence, or any offense specifically listed as ineligible for personal bond in Art. 17.03.

      The Order also does not prevent the release of a defendant on a bail bond (either surety or cash bond) nor does it affect the amount of bail a magistrate may set based upon the factors set forth in Art. 17.15.

      The full text of the Executive Order may be viewed here.

      For further information on the above-referenced statutes, on setting bail and bond conditions, and on the difference between a personal bond and a bail bond, please see pages 13-23 of the Magistration Deskbook.

      We will advise you of any further developments concerning this Executive Order.

    • 1. Conduct magistrations by two-way video conferencing instead of in person when possible.

      One vendor who provides video magistration products is Net Protec: http://www.videomagistrate.com/.

      Here is some information that the vendor provided to us:

      • “Our service, VideoMagistrate, is a web based video conferencing solution that requires no dedicated video conference hardware while utilizing existing computer webcams and microphones, this means our service can be used anywhere you have internet access. We also take scanned versions of the county's or municipalities' forms and modify them to be used and filled in online. We also have the ability for both the Judge and the inmate to electronically sign the forms eliminating the need to fax any documents for final signature. We also record the entire video session and both the documents and videos are stored on our server for access at any future time.”
      • Here is a video about the service: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_VFklXUsmU&feature=youtu.be.
      • Here is a demo video that shows how it all actually works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yLkeg-8vYVQ&feature=youtu.be.”
      • Click here to download a flyer for this program. 
      • All inquiries can be sent to sales@videomagistrate.com or you can call (800) 611-6702.

      In addition, the following judges have experience conducting video magistration and have agreed to serve as a resource for anyone who may have questions about the process:

      • Judge Rick Hill, Brazos County: (979) 255-0365
      • Judge Tomas Ramirez, Medina County: (210) 854-7256 tomas.ramirez@medinacountytexas.org
      • Judge Nicholas Chu, Travis County: Direct Office Line: (512) 854-4557 Personal Mobile: (817) 773-6905 Nicholas.Chu@traviscountytx.gov
      • Judge Bob Whitaker, Victoria County: (361) 575-0246  rwhitaker@vctx.org 
      • Judge Michael Roach (county judge, Stephens County):  mroach@stephenscountytx.govPhone: 254-559-2190
      • Judge Deidra Voigt (Gonzales County)
        ddvoigt@co.gonzales.tx.us
        Phone: 830-672-9001
      • Judge Yadi Rodriguez (Hutchinson County), 806-273-0103, Judgerodriguez@hutchinsoncnty.com

      2. When setting bail, set personal bonds wherever possible.

      Unless a personal bond is not allowed under Art. 17.03, Code of Criminal Procedure, we suggest you consider setting personal bonds instead of surety bonds. Additionally, you may impose any applicable bond conditions on defendant, which could include testing for the coronavirus and/or self-quarantine. 

      For more information on setting personal bonds and bond conditions, see p. 16 – 23 of our Magistration Deskbook, which can be found here: https://www.tjctc.org/tjctc-resources/Deskbooks.html

      Also note that the Texas Commission on Jail Standards has sent a Technical Assistance Memorandum to all sheriffs and jail administrators. That memo can be found here: https://www.tcjs.state.tx.us/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/TA_Memo-Coronavirus.pdf

    • Click here for best practices on holding remote hearings with self-represented litigants.

      Here are some ways to protect your Zoom meetings from being hacked: 

      1. Disable Guest Screen Sharing. By restricting screen sharing to the host, you can prevent anyone else from being able to display what is on their desktop.
      2. Require the Host to Be Present.
      3. Keep Your Personal Meeting ID Private.
      4. Use a Password.
      5. Use The Waiting Room.

       

      Check out these articles for more information

      https://www.inc.com/jason-aten/hackers-are-trying-to-get-into-your-zoom-meetings-here-are-5-ways-to-stop-them.html

      https://www.foxbusiness.com/technology/securely-host-zoom-meeting

  • Emergency Coronavirus Order, OCA Guidance, and Sample Court Responses - Updated 4/2/20

    • On March 19th, the Texas Supreme Court issued an order stopping residential eviction cases through April 19. 2020. All deadlines are on hold until the expiration of the order. All pending cases, including those where citation has been issued or even judgment has been rendered, are subject to this order.

      Click here to read the full text of the order.

      Writs of possession may not be executed, including the posting of the written warning notice, until April 26, 2020. The 60 and 90 day deadlines in Rule 510.8(d) are on hold until the expiration of the order. 

      Courts may continue to accept filings, but may not issue citation until April 19, 2020. The 10-21 day trial window is on hold until the expiration of the order.

      Imminent Threat Exception
      An exception exists if the plaintiff files a petition stating that there is an "imminent threat" of harm to the plaintiff, the plaintiff's employees, or other tenants, or criminal activity. If a court finds the sworn petition presents this scenario, the court creates a procedure and timeframe for the case to process in a manner that protects health and safety (such as electronically or via telephone).

    • The Supreme Court of Texas and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals have issued a sweeping order that gives significant authority and latitude to the courts during this emergency situation, prioritizing public safety. Courts may implement these strategies as needed, but must implement them in order to protect the public, including court staff and parties. Options include extending or modifying deadlines in civil and criminal cases, hearing evidence remotely or via sworn written statement, holding court at other locations within the court's county, and any steps necessary to protect the public from the spread of COVID-19. Click here for the full text.

      Click here for a March 19th update to this order clarifying that non-essential cases must not exceed local, state, or federal gathering restrictions, and also see the March 19th order stopping eviction cases.

    • Click here to visit the National Center for State Court's Public Health Emergency Preparation page. 

      Click here to download Travis County's standing order. 

      Click here to download Tarrant County's standing order.

      Click here to download Tarrant County's order related to constable duties.

      Click here to download Montgomery County's standing order.

      Click here to download Travis County's standing bench exchange agreement.

      Click here to download Bandera County's standing order.

      Click here to download Brazoria County's standing order, with directions to the general public.

      Click here to download Collin County's standing order recalling Class C warrants.

      Please see the "Imminent Threat" FAQ in the Evictions section for standing orders and forms related to "Imminent Threat" Residential Eviction cases.

    • OCA resources related to the COVID-19 pandemic can be found here.

      Click here for updated OCA guidance for handling court cases.

      What does this mean for justice courts and constables?

      The most important takeaways are that courts should schedule or suspend proceedings to avoid large gatherings until at least May 1, 2020, unless the hearing is an “essential proceeding.”

      “Essential proceedings” conducted by justice courts are:

      • Criminal magistration (can be held via two-way video conferencing)
      • Juvenile detention hearings (only if designated by the Juvenile Court)
      • Mental health proceedings

      Other essential proceedings listed in the OCA guidance are: CPS removal hearings, temporary restraining orders/temporary injunctions, family violence protective orders, and certain mental health proceedings.

      Many counties have also included cases such as writs of re-entry, restoration, retrieval, and remedy and repair if it impacts public health or health of the occupants. See our Standing Orders section for examples.

      Courts should also publicly encourage those with COVID-19 or flu-like symptoms, a fever, or who are coughing or sneezing to contact the court prior to appearing.

      Remote Proceedings and Court Closures:

      Any proceeding that can take place by telephone or video conferencing should happen remotely.

      OCA has established Zoom accounts for courts, and set up a page discussing how Zoom works, including a webinar, as well as creating court YouTube channels to allow public access to the courts. You can access that page here. Also, please see TJCTC's webinars on Tech Tools and on using Zoom.

      Any court closure also must be reported to OCA,and more information can be found by clicking here.

      Here are some ways to protect your Zoom meetings from being hacked: 

      1. Disable Guest Screen Sharing. By restricting screen sharing to the host, you can prevent anyone else from being able to display what is on their desktop.
      2. Require the Host to Be Present.
      3. Keep Your Personal Meeting ID Private.
      4. Use a Password.
      5. Use The Waiting Room.

       

      Check out these articles for more information

      https://www.inc.com/jason-aten/hackers-are-trying-to-get-into-your-zoom-meetings-here-are-5-ways-to-stop-them.html

      https://www.foxbusiness.com/technology/securely-host-zoom-meeting

    • On April 1, the Supreme Court issued a new order (download here), which does two things:

      • Makes it mandatory, instead of discretionary, for courts to put on hold all deadlines for filing or serving items in civil cases (such as answer deadlines or statutes of limitations).
      • Extends the time period to put these deadlines on hold to June 1, 2020.

      This order does not specifically apply to appeal deadlines, though the Supreme Court has ordered that courts treat delayed appeals "generously."

  • Inquest Issues - Updated 4/3/20

    • Some labs in Texas are testing samples for Medical Examiners and Justices of the Peace. Two of those are listed directly below, click the lab name for a link to COVID-19 information on their websites. Also, many lab and ME policies and procedures are listed below those two links. Please scroll down to find your lab or ME's office, as applicable.

      LabCorp
      Quest Diagnostics

      Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office – Austin, Texas
      Travis County ME’s office is testing for COVID-19.

      The following is Travis County ME’s updated information for JPs:

      For natural deaths occurring in patients who have been diagnosed prior to death with COVID-19, those decedents do not require an autopsy and we do not expect that those cases will be referred to our office unless an autopsy would have already been required for a reason other than potential COVID-19 infection (for example, a suspected homicide or suicide case).

      If you are investigating a potential COVID-19 related death and the hospital or physician ordered COVID-19 testing before the patient died, it will be important to wait until the results of that test come back prior to referring the case to TCME for autopsy. This is because if the result comes back positive, an autopsy is not necessary and the treating physicians should sign the death certificate (again, unless an autopsy would already be required for another reason other than COVID-19). If the result comes back negative and you still desire an autopsy, the case can then be referred to our office at that time.

      For deaths that have a compelling history that suggests a reasonable probability of infection (and death due to that infection), we are collecting the appropriate samples and sending them to an outside laboratory for testing. While we are waiting for test results, the body will be stored at TCME pending the receipt of results. If the test is positive for COVID-19, an autopsy will not be performed. An external examination with computed tomography scan will be performed, and the death will be attributed to the infection.

      If an autopsy is required on a COVID-positive decedent for a forensic reason other than potential death due to the infection (for example, a suspected homicide or suicide case), we have a specialized protocol for performing autopsies in those situations in order to lessen the potential risk to our staff. Each case will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine the course that is taken.

      It will be very important to obtain detailed histories regarding decedents to determine whether testing is warranted. Important pieces of information to obtain include detailed descriptions of symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath, and whether the decedent appeared to be suffering from a respiratory disease), potential exposure to other individuals who are or may be sick, and any travel history (with details about when and where the travel was).

      These protocols may be modified as we gain more experience in dealing with these cases. Thank you for your understanding during this difficult and challenging situation. We value our relationships with our partners and want to ensure that we continue to provide you with the best possible service during this pandemic.

      Central Texas Autopsy – Lockhart
      Central Texas Autopsy does not have test kits for COVID-19. Case information must be called in prior to sending a body, so that the office can evaluate whether or not they will accept the body for an autopsy.

      Full text of current procedures can be found here.

      Dallas County Medical Examiner’s Office – Dallas
      Dallas County ME’s office is not accepting bodies that have tested positive for COVID-19. Testing is conducted through Dallas County Health and Human Services. Instructions for submissions and request forms can be found at their website: https://www.dallascounty.org/departments/dchhs/2019-novel-coronavirus.php

      Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office – Fort Worth [also Lubbock, Ector, Denton Counties]
      Tarrant County ME’s office is testing for COVID-19. Guidelines and other information related to COVID-19 can be found here.

      Checklist of screening questions for COVID-19 can be found here.

      Ector, Denton, and Lubbock County Medical Examiner’s Offices work with Tarrant County Medical Examiner, so the above guidelines apply to them as well.

      Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office - San Antonio
      Bexar County is not testing for COVID-19. If a COVID-19 is suspected, the judge must contact the local Health Department to conduct the test for COVID-19. A judge must contact the office prior to sending a body. It will be very important to have information regarding the deceased’s travel history, symptoms, and contacts with anyone suspected of having COVID-19.

      Webb County Medical Examiner's Office - Laredo
      Webb County ME is still accepting all cases, even those suspected to have COVID-19. The current turn-around time for COVID-19 testing through the lab that they are using, Quest, is approximately 4-5 days.

      They are asking JPs to contact the ME’s office prior to transport, as they have seen some funeral homes that are putting disinfectant into the decedents’ airways, rendering any testing for COVID-19 non-viable. They also want to provide the JP with other precautions to take when handling the body to keep everyone safe.

      Like other offices, they are requesting the JP to collect information about travel, exposure, and symptoms in the last 14 days and forward that information to the ME’s office.

      Fort Bend County Medical Examiner’s Office – Rosenberg
      In light of COVID-19 in our region, these are additional investigative questions and information that should help identify decedents at low or high risk for exposure to or infection by COVID-19. The ME Investigators will also be gathering this information when we are contacted by law enforcement.

      Please have all officers/investigators get this information on all decedents they investigate or respond:
      1. Recent travel? Where? What dates or when did they return?
      2. Any respiratory symptoms such as fever, cough (dry or wet), chills, sweats, muscle aches, shortness of breath in the last 2 weeks?
      3. Exposure to anyone who has these symptoms?
      4. Are they in a facility (nursing home, inpatient facility, group home, etc.) with other employees or patients with these symptoms or has tested positive for COVID-19?
      5. Exposure to anyone who has recently traveled? Who are they? Where did they go? Do they have any symptoms?
      6. Are they being treated for any respiratory symptoms? Who is their physician?
      7. Have they been tested for COVID19? Are they positive or negative?

      These questions need to be answered. Talking to the family on the scene or nurse/physician in the emergency room and getting responses such as “I don’t know” or “I don’t have that information” or “I didn’t ask” is insufficient. It is also important to get contact information for any close relatives or people who might have more information related to these questions.

      CDC Guidance:

      Click here to download the April 2020 guidance on Certifying COVID-19 Deaths.

      Interim Guidance for Collection and Submission of Postmortem Specimens from Deceased Persons Under Investigation (PUI) for COVID-19, February 2020: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/guidance-postmortem-specimens.html

      Interim Guidelines for Collecting, Handling, and Testing Clinical Specimens from Persons for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/lab/guidelines-clinical-specimens.html

      American Forensics Labs

      Our policies are based on the guidelines from the CDC and OSHA for documentation of the disease as well as maintaining the health and safety of our staff.

      https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/controlprevention.html

      - We are performing autopsies as usual for decedents who are NOT suspected of having COVID19. Our investigators will investigate each case and screen additionally for COVID19 exposure.

      - If a patient has confirmed COVID19 positive, no autopsy is required. If you need assistance with death certificate wording, please feel free to contact me for guidance. If the patient's death was COVID19 positive and the manner of death is a homicide or some suicides, then an autopsy may be required to document the findings for eventual legal proceedings. These will be assessed on a case by case basis. Despite being in the midst of a pandemic, our policies and procedures for investigating cases will be followed. The evidence and data collected is as important as it ever was.

      - If a patient has died and is suspected to have COVID19, then testing will be done for COVID19 before an autopsy will be performed.

      - If the patient died in the ER please ask the ER to send for the COVID19 testing. This will decrease the turnaround time for the test. You may then have the decedent transported to us. We will follow up on the testing prior to autopsy.

      - If the deceased dies somewhere other than a hospital and is suspected of having COVID19, then we can conduct the COVID19 testing here prior to the autopsy.

      Again - to reiterate, autopsies will be postponed until testing is confirmed negative. On the patients we have seen so far, the testing takes anywhere from 3-5 days for results.

      I understand and acknowledge that these are frightening times, but it is as important as ever to not take shortcuts in death investigation which may have dire consequences later down the road. It is important to take COVID19 exposure seriously. Washing hands and proper use of personal protection equipment (PPE) are important safeguards for our staff and for you at the scene.

      Our American Forensics Death Investigators, Nicole and Ashley, will continue to investigate cases that are sent to us. If you would like a copy of the report that they generate, please let us know we are happy to provide that to you to aid with your investigation and record keeping.

      The health and safety of you, our staff and the patient's family is our priority. Please be safe and do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or concerns.

      Dr. G Amy C. Gruszecki, MSFS, DO
      Forensic Pathologist
      American Forensics

      www.americanforensics.com

       

      • An autopsy may not be ordered to be performed on a COVID-19 death. Code of Criminal Procedure 49.10 (d) … A justice of the peace may not order a person to perform an autopsy on the body of a deceased person whose death was caused by a communicable disease during a public health disaster.
      • Check with the entity that your county contracts with for autopsies to see what their policy is. For example, Travis County ME will accept suspected COVID-19 deaths, and will send a sample for testing. If the sample comes back negative, they will perform the autopsy. If it comes back positive, they will not perform the autopsy, as provided by Art. 49.10(d). See the Guidance Regarding Sending Bodies for Autopsy section for more information.
      • Speak to your local public health authority about any additional measures to be taken.
      • A note from Travis County ME about processing bodies in this pandemic:  

        A very important issue has arisen regarding potential COVID-19 related deaths and transport of bodies to TCME by funeral homes.

         

        It has come to our attention that instructional material has been disseminated to funeral homes related to procedures to decontaminate bodies that involve applying disinfecting agent(s) on and/or within the nose and mouth in an attempt to reduce potential risk of exposure to the COVID-19 virus.  While we have no particular stance on this practice once the body has been examined and prior to embalming and/or viewing at the funeral home, the practice of applying a disinfecting agent in or around the nose or mouth could have detrimental effects on the ability of the laboratory test to identify the COVID-19 virus in samples we collect from those areas, and would invalidate the legitimacy of a negative test.

         

        Spraying the exterior surface of the body bag with a disinfectant after it has been sealed is acceptable as long as efforts are made to prevent the disinfectant from leaking through the zipper onto the face. 

         

        When arranging for transport of a decedent to TCME, please inform the funeral home you are engaging for transport that they are not to put any type of chemical/disinfecting agent in, on, or around the body.  If such agents are applied to a body, we will be unable to accept the case for examination.

         

        Thank you for assisting us in our attempts to actively halt this practice that would undermine our shared interest in our ability to accurately diagnose cases of COVID-19.

      • Protect yourself with whatever resources you have available. We recognize there is a shortage of masks, gloves, and sanitizers. It’s a good idea to change clothes and wash them after and use Lysol spray or wipes – if available – on surfaces that may have come in contact with suspected contaminated areas.
      • Have a plan with first responders so not as many people are entering homes where no foul play is suspected. This may mean that you do not see the body in its final position and are giving permission to move bodies before you get to a scene.
      • This is a time when ‘reasonable’ may mean performing inquests over the phone. The less spread of germs, the better. Use your best judgment and common sense.
      • This is a good time to make sure you have a bench exchange with the other judges in your county. You should also have an exchange with contiguous counties to ensure coverage if and when needed. Click here to download our bench exchange form. 
      • Please check with your county for how to handle if first responders or other judges become ill and are unable to respond to a scene.
      • Remember that even if it is a hospital death, doctors may not be willing to complete the death certificate and you will be called to start the inquest process. Our emergency rooms will likely be overwhelmed. They will need you more than ever. Again, you may be able to handle this type of inquest over the phone.
    • Transporting the body

      • If there are issues with body transportation – an overwhelmed system or funeral home personnel getting sick – please do not attempt to move the body yourself.

      Cremation

      • From the UH Health & Law Policy institute linked below: “A body or a body part that is subject to an inquest must be disposed according to the directions of the medico-legal authority. The medico-legal authority, for example, may order a disinterment if a body or body part subject to an inquest was buried prior to an investigation. Similarly, a body subject to an inquest may not be cremated unless the body is identified, and the medico-legal authority has issued a signed certificate stating that an autopsy was performed on the body or that an autopsy was unnecessary. A body generally cannot be cremated within 48 hours after the time of death as indicated on the death certificate but may proceed if the death certificate indicates that death was caused by Asiatic cholera, bubonic plague, typhus fever, smallpox, or if the medico-legal authority waives the requirement in writing. During a Public Health Disaster, the DSHS Commissioner may designate other communicable diseases for which cremation within 48 hours of the time of death is authorized.”
    • Click here for April 2020 guidance from the CDC on COVID-19 Deaths.

      Please see the Autopsies and Testing section under this tab for details from the Travis County Medical Examiner's Office on handling bodies.

      • You may be able to gather information from witnesses that lead you to believe the person died from coronavirus. This may be from family members or there may be a doctor who says they believe that is the cause of death but were unable to test. The symptoms include a spiked fever, coughing, and difficulty breathing.
      • If you believe that the death was likely or suspected coronavirus, you should state that in the death certificate: “suspected coronavirus disease” or “suspected COVID-19.” This is important data you are creating that will help with planning for future public health disasters. 
      • For deaths due to COVID-19, report COVID-19 in Cause of Death – Part I on the Medical 2 tab. Report other chronic conditions that may have contributed (e.g. COPD, asthma) in Cause of Death – Part II on the Medical 2 tab. See our autopsy section regarding sending suspected or confirmed COVID-19 deaths for autopsy in light of Art. 49.10(d) of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

    • Click here to download the Mass Casualty Incidents information from UH Law & Policy Institute

      Watch a video from a Texas mortuary professional with tips on conducting an inquest during the pandemic. 

  • Issues in Non-Essential Cases - Updated 4/3/20

    • As described in our webinar Magistration During the Pandemic, jails can be a source of intense spread of contagious disease, such as COVID-19. For this reason, many counties are suspending execution of fine-only misdemeanor warrants. Additionally, best practice would be to hold off on any capias pro fine show cause hearings, or issuance of commitment orders until the disaster order is lifted. This will help protect the health and safety of jail staff and law enforcement officers, in addition to that of defendants and other inmates.

    • TJCTC has received questions about receiving citations that have not been signed by the defendant, as officers implement social distancing protocols. You can accept those citations, and they are sufficient to institute a case. However, we do not think that they would support a new criminal charge of VPTA if the person does not appear as directed. Instead, we would recommend sending a summons if they do not appear by their appearance date. During the pandemic emergency, the summons should direct them to appear electronically or telephonically. If they do not appear in response to the summons, the court could then utilize other tools listed in Chapter 3 of the Criminal Deskbook (with the exception of FTA or VPTA) to secure the defendant’s appearance.

    • OCA has recommended that courts postpone “non-essential” cases. Non-essential cases must be postponed if necessary for the court to handle all essential cases, or if the non-essential case cannot be held in a manner that protects the health and safety of all involved as well as the general public. This would mean that most civil and criminal cases and hearings should be postponed. See our Tech Tools and Zoom webinars on this page for more information on safely holding remote hearings.

      All efforts should be undertaken, given the tools the court has at its disposal, to notify parties of these postponements, including phone, mail, email, and the court’s website.

      Courts should refrain from penalizing parties in civil cases and defendants in criminal cases for not appearing for cases until the public health emergency has passed.

      Essential cases have been defined to include writs of re-entry, writs of restoration, repair and remedy cases, emergency detention warrants, and criminal magistrations. These cases should be processed in ways that minimize gatherings, and under the CDC social distancing and hygiene standards discussed elsewhere.

      For more information, see the section related to the OCA announcement and recommendations.

    • Judges have asked how to handle weddings during this unique situation. We believe that judges can perform weddings electronically, as long as all parties are located in Texas. In-person ceremonies should be limited, and must not exceed Governor Abbott's ten-person maximum. Additionally, you should not have people grouped together or lined up awaiting a ceremony.

    • Click here for best practices on holding remote hearings with self-represented litigants.

      Here are some ways to protect your Zoom meetings from being hacked: 

      1. Disable Guest Screen Sharing. By restricting screen sharing to the host, you can prevent anyone else from being able to display what is on their desktop.
      2. Require the Host to Be Present.
      3. Keep Your Personal Meeting ID Private.
      4. Use a Password.
      5. Use The Waiting Room.

       

      Check out these articles for more information

      https://www.inc.com/jason-aten/hackers-are-trying-to-get-into-your-zoom-meetings-here-are-5-ways-to-stop-them.html

      https://www.foxbusiness.com/technology/securely-host-zoom-meeting

  • Constable Resources - Updated 3/29/20

    • If your office has a pending order of sale, public auction won't be able to be reasonably performed until some of the restrictions are lifted. We would recommend contacting the court to either extend the deadlines of the writ of execution if it is still alive under their authority under the Emergency Order, or to issue a venditioni exponas to allow you to perform the sale outside of the writ's timeframes.

       

    • Where necessary to protect the safety of the public, court staff, constables, and constable office staff, courts must delay any non-essential cases and only hold essential cases in a manner that protects public health and safety. This means that best practice would be for courts to not issue civil process (such as citations and writs) right now except in essential cases. As noted by TJCTC, eviction cases have not been designated as essential cases. Additionally, residential eviction cases (other than "imminent threat" evictions), including issuance of citations or writs, have been paused by the Texas Supreme Court until at least April 19th, with no writs of possession executed until at least April 26th.

    • We would recommend that if you have any pending process or receive new process in a non-essential case, and you cannot serve or execute the process in a way that is completely safe for you as well as the public, you should contact the court. Inform the court that you are unable to safely serve or execute the process and request that they recall the process. The court has full discretion to do so, and is required to do so by order of the Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals if needed for public health and safety.

      For an example of a court order related to constable duties, see Tarrant County’s order here.

      If you have process in a non-essential case that the judge will not recall, the Supreme Court order does not give you explicit legal authority to not serve the process. We recommend that you take all precautions possible, including protective equipment, maintaining safe distancing, and frequent and thorough hand washing. Seek alternative or mail service wherever possible and allowable. Additionally, seek delays in serving or executing the process. Many tasks, such as service of citations, do not have specific guidelines on timeframes that you must follow.

      If you have process in an essential case, we recommend that you take all precautions possible, including protective equipment, maintaining safe distancing, and frequent and thorough hand washing. Seek alternative or mail service wherever possible and allowable.

      Eviction Process
      Residential eviction cases (other than "imminent threat" evictions), including issuance of citations or writs, have been paused by the Texas Supreme Court until at least April 19th, with no writs of possession executed until at least April 26th. Any pending citations or writs must be returned in residential eviction cases unless they are "imminent threat" evictions. For more information see the Eviction Case Issues FAQ section.

    • The CDC has rated the immediate health risk to law enforcement personnel performing daily routine activities to be low and recommended that they follow the CDC’s Interim General Business Guidance (linked below).

      The reality is that law enforcement officers, like all first responders, hospital workers, and public service providers, can potentially be exposed to infectious diseases at any time during their daily shifts. It is important to remain calm, recall training, and work with other government and health officials to ensure that emergency planning is put into action to protect everyone from unnecessary exposure.

      Protect yourself from exposure

      • If possible, maintain a distance of 6 feet from other people
      • Practice proper hand hygiene
        • Soap and water are preferable, but if they are not readily available use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
        • Wear disposable gloves
      • Do not touch your face with unwashed hands
      • Wear wraparound sunglasses during the day and clear protective eyewear at night
      • Have EMS/EMT assess and transport anyone that you suspect might have COVID-19.
      • Ensure that only trained personnel with appropriate equipment have contact with anyone who has or may have COVID-19
      • Learn your agency’s plan for exposure control and participate in any available training
      • Post information about COVID-19 in your office to inform other officers and the public

      Keep in contact with your courts and other county officials

      • Many courts are requiring that the service of some civil process be stopped for a set amount of time to limit officer’s exposure to COVID-19
      • Jail and arrest policies may be temporarily changed
      • There may be additional county emergency policies and safety plans that constable’s offices must comply with

      If you suspect you came in contact with COVID-19

      • Wash your hands thoroughly
      • Clean and infect your duty belt and other gear prior to reuse
      • Change your clothes if possible and follow standard operating procedures to contain and dispose any disposable PPE
      • Wash clothing in hot water with detergent
      • Consider self-quarantine and communicate related to the exposure with your employer (agency, department, or county officials)

      If you must make contact with individuals confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19

      • Follow CDC’s guidance for Emergency Medical Professionals (link below)
      • If you are in close contact with suspected COVID-19, N95 Respirators or respirators that offer a higher level of protection should be used if possible, if not, N95 or higher-level facemasks
      • Eye protection (goggles or disposable face shield rather than just personal eyeglasses)
      • Disposable gloves and an isolation gown
      • This PPE should be prioritized for persons in high contact, healthcare and first responders to health emergencies, if it is in short supply
    • One of the best ways to stop the spread of coronavirus is through social distancing. Santa Clara County (California) Public Health Department describes social distancing as “limiting large groups of people coming together, closing buildings and canceling events.”

      PoliceOne website has tips for practice social distancing as a citizen and also special tips for law enforcement agencies. Click here to read the specific tips. 

       

    • It's not too late to make a plan! 

      Check out this link to read tips for preventing staff from exposure. 

      Click here to read a link about what to do if a staff member has become infected. Quick exposure control can protect the rest of your office and the public. 

    • Click here for the International Law Enforcement Trainers' Association (ILEETA) COVID-19 trainer resource page, with lots of links, videos, and more.

      Click here for a PoliceOne article about COVID-19 procedures.

      Click here for a fact sheet from the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

      Click here to watch the video "Coronavirus: What Police Officers Need to Know"

      Click here to watch the video "Is Your Agency Ready for a Pandemic" by risk management expert and Lexipol co-founder Gordon Graham

      Click here to access the Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers from the CDC. 

      Click here to access the CDC document entitled: What Law Enforcement Personnel Need to Know about Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) 

      Click here to access the CDC document entitled Interim Guidance for Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Systems and 911 Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) for COVID-19 in the United States

      Click here to access OSHA/HHS's Guidance on Workplaces for COVID-19

  • Court Administration During the COVID-19 Pandemic - Updated 4/3/20

    • See the OCA guidance linked on this page for full information. The FFCRA is a law passed aimed at protecting employees and employers during the pandemic. 

      The law requires you to post this poster in a prominent place. Sending it by email or regular mail to all of your employees will satisfy the posting requirement. The Department of Labor has many resources (click here) that explain the new law and temporary rule. A recorded webinar discussing the new law/rule will be posted to the site on Friday, April 3rd.

  • TJCTC Information - Updated 4/6/20

    • In these uncertain times, we know that your communities will be looking to you for leadership and strength. Remember to stay calm and vigilant.

      In the below FAQ, we have gathered information, best practices, and resources for pressing issues. Please keep checking back for more updates. TJCTC is open and in operation.

      The Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals have issued an Emergency Order which states that all courts in Texas may take certain measures in any civil or criminal case, and must do so to avoid risk to court staff, parties, attorneys, jurors, and the public. These measures include:

      • Suspending any and all deadlines and procedures for a period ending no later than 30 days after the Governor’s state of disaster has been lifted.
      • Allowing or requiring anyone other than a juror to participate in any trial, hearing, or other proceeding by teleconference or videoconference.
      • Conducting proceedings away from the court’s usual location but in the same county;
      • Requiring every participant in a proceeding to alert the court if the participant has, or knows of another participant who has, COVID-19 or flu-like symptoms, or a fever, cough or sneezing;
      • Taking any other reasonable actions to avoid exposing court proceedings to the threat of COVID-19.

      The emergency order is discussed further below.

      Justice Courts in some counties have entered Standing Orders suspending all trials and proceedings other than “essential court proceedings” until April 1, 2020. See our Standing Orders section for examples of these orders.

      Please note that eviction cases are NOT considered “essential court proceedings” and therefore may be postponed, and must be postponed to avoid risk to court staff, parties, and the public, as provided in the Emergency Order.

      For more information please see the discussion above under OCA Guidelines for Court Procedures.

      We will do everything we can to give you information so that you can safely help your community.

      Very Truly Yours,
      Thea

    • TJCTC is still open for business! Please feel free to contact us with your education and legal questions after reviewing the information on this page. Call 512.347.9927 to speak to a staff member and press 1 to speak with an attorney. 

      You can also post on our legal board at https://www.tjctc.org/tjctc-resources/legal-question-board.html

      April and May in-person education events have been canceled. Check back at the beginning of May for more information. We will refund your money or apply it to a later program, but we ask that you give us more time than usual to process refunds. 

      Summer programs are still scheduled although we are evaluating on a week by week basis. Please check back here at our website for the most up to date information. 

      TJCTC is currently in conversations with the Court of Criminal Appeals regarding education requirements for judges and constables. Expect an email this week and also continue to check our website. We will make sure you all have a way to get your hours this year!

  • Temporary Justices of the Peace

    • If a justice of the peace is temporarily unable to perform their official duties because of absence, recusal, illness, injury, or other disability, the county judge, on their own motion or at the request of the justice of the peace, may appoint a “qualified person” to serve as a temporary justice for the duration of the absence of the justice of the peace from the bench.

    • A “qualified person” is a person who has served as a justice of the peace, county judge, or county court at law judge for not less than four years and who has not been convicted of a criminal offense that involves moral turpitude (for example, fraud). The person who is appointed does not have to live in the county in which they are appointed as the temporary justice of the peace.

    • If the county judge cannot find a “qualified person” who agrees to serve as a temporary justice of the peace, then the county judge may appoint any qualified voter who has experience and knowledge relevant to judicial or justice court processes and procedures and is approved by the county judge and a justice of the peace in the county to serve as a temporary justice of the peace.

    • A temporary justice of the peace has all the rights and powers of the justice of the peace while serving as a temporary justice, but may not make personnel decisions or significant changes in the office.

    • The temporary justice of the peace is to be paid by the commissioners court by the day, week, or month in an amount equal to the pay of the regular justice.

    • For more information please see page 21 of the Officeholding Deskbook.

  • Bench Exchange Agreements

    • Yes! We strongly encourage all judges to act now to enter into a bench exchange agreement with other judges in your county or in adjacent or nearby counties. This way if you are unavailable to hear a case, another judge can hear it for you; or if they are unavailable, then you can hear it for them.

    • Yes! A justice of the peace may exchange benches with any other justice of the peace in any county in Texas.

    • A bench exchange is for a period not to exceed five days; however, it may be written so that it automatically renews every five days until one of the judges opts out of the agreement.
    • Yes! If a justice of the peace is not available to conduct an inquest into a death occurring in their county, the justice of the peace in the precinct in which the death occurred may request a justice of the peace from another county (where justices of the peace perform inquests) to conduct the inquest. Upon completing the inquest, the justice of the peace who conducted it transfers all information to the justice of the peace in the precinct where the death occurred for final disposition of the matter no more than five days after the inquest is initiated.

    • Forms for a Bench Exchange Agreement

      A bench exchange agreement may be found at this link: http://www.tjctc.org/tjctc-resources/forms.html under “General Officeholding.”

      An inquest bench exchange agreement may be found at this link: https://www.tjctc.org/tjctc-resources/forms.html under “Inquests.”

      Resources:

      For more information please see page 20 of the Officeholding Deskbook.

  • Your community looks to the courts and to law enforcement for leadership in times of emergency. We know how seriously you all take your jobs and we want to remind you that self-care and handling stress will be very important for you and your staff in the next few weeks.

    Webinar Opportunity
    Many of you are on the front lines dealing with this crisis. Go to https://info.lexipol.com/webinar-coronavirus-stress-management to sign up for a webinar on managing your stress so that you can continue to effectively serve your community.

    The webinar will be at 12 noon Central time on Thursday, April 2.

    From the Texas State Bar - We are facing a time of uncertainty and, increasingly, isolation. Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program (TLAP) has collected valuable online support options for anyone feeling isolated and struggling with a mental health issue or needing recovery support. You can view those resources at texasbar.com/remote-well-being.

    TLAP confidentially helps lawyers, judges (including non-lawyer judges), and law students who are concerned for themselves or a colleague with regard to general well-being, mental health, or substance use issues. TLAP can be reached 24 hours a day by calling 800-343-TLAP (8527) or texting TLAP to 555888. Additional resources are available at tlaphelps.org.

    From the CDC - Things you can do to support yourself:

    • Avoid excessive exposure to media coverage of COVID-19.

    • Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep and avoid alcohol and drugs.

    • Make time to unwind and remind yourself that strong feelings will fade. Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories. It can be upsetting to hear about the crisis and see images repeatedly. Try to do some other activities you enjoy to return to your normal life.

    • Connect with others. Share your concerns and how you are feeling with a friend or family member. Maintain healthy relationships.

    • Maintain a sense of hope and positive thinking.

    • For more tips, see the CDC’s “Coping During Covid-19” page at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/coping.html.

    Need to just vent or to be heard? Contact us. (jessforeman@txstate.edu) We are here for you. ❤ TJCTC

  • CDC Coronavirus Statistics Page 

    Click here for a site with live worldwide updated statistics, including filterable graphs.

    Click here for the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus site and map.

    Click here for DSHS information on COVID-19 in Texas, including county-by-county

    Gov. Abbott and Matthew McConaughey PSA video