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  • Supreme Court Orders and OCA Guidance - Updated 5/22/20

    • Under the Supreme Court's Twelfth Emergency Order, issued April 27, courts must follow OCA guidance regarding social distancing, maximum group size, and other restrictions and precautions applicable to court proceedings. Click here for a website with updated OCA guidance for handling court cases.

      Effective June 1, courts may begin holding non-essential in-person hearings but only if they are held consistent with OCA’s Guidance to Courts Regarding All Court Proceedings. This includes the mandatory development of an operating plan as described below. Courts who wish to delay non-essential in-person proceedings longer or who are advised to do so by local public health authorities may do so.

      Mandatory Operating Plan
      The local administrative district judges in each county will be required to submit to the Regional Presiding Judge for their administrative judicial region a plan for all courts in the county, discussing measures that will be taken to protect litigants, the public, court staff, judges, and others visiting court buildings. The plans should be developed in consultation with local health authorities and the county judge.

      In-person hearings, other than essential hearings that cannot be conducted remotely because doing so is not possible or practicable, may not be held on or after June 1 unless an operating plan has been submitted and acknowledged in writing by the Regional Presiding Judge.

      A template that can be modified as appropriate is available here to assist you in developing a plan.

      Should you have questions or need assistance with developing your operating plan, please contact coronavirus@txcourts.gov.

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

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

      See the section on Guidance for Cases Before June 1 for more information on what "essential proceedings" may include.

    • Under the Supreme Court's Twelfth Emergency Order, issued April 27, courts must follow OCA guidance regarding social distancing, maximum group size, and other restrictions and precautions applicable to court proceedings. Click here for updated OCA guidance for handling court cases.

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

      The most important takeaway is that courts must suspend in-person proceedings until at least June 1, 2020, unless the hearing is an “essential proceeding.” Essential proceedings should be conducted remotely when at all possible. For any in-person essential proceedings, OCA recommends that social distancing requirements are observed and face coverings are used when possible. Click here for full details.

      See the FAQ in this section on Conducting Remote Hearings for guidance on how to remotely hold hearings.

      “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

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

      “Imminent threat” evictions have not been expressly defined as essential proceedings, though a court could (and in many cases should) treat them as such. If an “imminent threat” eviction case is deemed essential, it could be held in-person but only if it cannot be held electronically, and only in accordance with OCA’s Court Proceedings Guidance.

      If an “imminent threat” eviction case is not deemed essential, but still meets the definition of “imminent threat”, the case could go forward immediately but only if it can be held electronically, since OCA’s guidance prohibits in-person non-essential hearings through June 1.

      If you want to inquire whether other proceedings are essential, please consult with your Regional Presiding Judge or contact coronavirus@txcourts.gov.

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

      Click here for OCA's benchcard on public access to electronic hearings.

    • Click here for OCA's benchcard on public access to electronic hearings.

      Click here for Sample Zoom Instructions to send to parties, and see other sample forms in the Eviction and Court Responses sections.

      OCA's guidance orders that any proceeding that can take place by telephone or video conferencing should happen remotely. See the other FAQ in this section for details on cases that may be heard before June 1 as compared to on or after June 1.

      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.

      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-meetin

    • On May 14th, the Texas Supreme Court issued its Fifteenth Emergency Order, which stated that the eviction moratorium would end on May 18 as previously ordered. All pending cases, including those where citation has been issued, are subject to this order. Additionally, for any case filed from March 27 through July 25, plaintiffs must show that their case is not subject to the CARES Act in order to proceed. Click here to read the full text of the order. 

      Effects of the Order
      For any case filed from March 27 through July 25, a plaintiff must include in its petition a statement that the case is not subject to the CARES Act (see the CARES Act FAQ elsewhere on this page for more information). TJCTC's recommendation after consulting with the Supreme Court is that this could be done in an amended petition, including a petition orally amended by presenting sworn evidence or testimony at trial. 

      Courts may (but are not required to) issue citations beginning May 19, 2020. The 10-21 day trial requirement may be suspended, if necessary to avoid risk, by courts until the 30th day after the date Gov. Abbott lifts the disaster declaration (based on the First Emergency Order, as extended).

      Eviction hearings may (but are not required to) be held beginning May 19, 2020. However, note that under current guidance, they may not be held in person (unless an essential "imminent threat" case) until at least June 1, 2020. See the section on Residential Eviction Guidance for more information on holding remote eviction hearings, including sample forms and instructions.

      Writs of possession may be executed, including the posting of the written warning notice, beginning May 26, 2020. The 60 and 90 day deadlines for writs in Rule 510.8(d) are paused until June 1, and may be extended by courts if needed to avoid risk, until the 30th day after Gov. Abbott lifts the disaster declaration (as authorized under the extended First Emergency Order). 

    • On May 14, the Supreme Court issued its Sixteenth Emergency Order (click here to read the order) ending the moratoriums placed on "consumer debt" cases and adding new notice requirements for garnishment and receivership proceedings, and requiring a hearing within two days of its request if a person claims their stimulus check has been garnished or seized.

      ("Consumer debt" means an obligation, or an alleged obligation, primarily for personal, family, or household purposes and arising from a transaction or alleged transaction. Finance Code Sec. 392.001(2) - Note that this is much broader than the definition of debt claim cases, so these procedures will apply in many non-"debt claim" cases).

      1. Service of writs of garnishment in "consumer debt" cases may resume May 26, 2020;
      2. Receivers appointed under Chapter 31 of the CPRC may resume freezing accounts at financial institutions on May 18, 2020;
      3. In "consumer debt" cases, individual judgment debtors or receivers can request a hearing, which must be held within two business days of the request, to determine which funds are attributable to a coronavirus stimulus payment. (The hearing can be in-person or remote, and must be remote through at least June 1, unless designated as an essential proceeding). 
      4. Courts and turnover receivers appointed under CPRC Section 31.002 must release or refund any stimulus payments affected by garnishment or turnover;
      5. Judgment debtors in "consumer debt" cases must receive (in any manner prescribed for service of citation or as provided in Rule 21a) in a garnishment proceeding or a proceeding where a receiver has been appointed the following notice: 
        “IF YOU RECEIVED A STIMULUS PAYMENT FROM THE IRS UNDER THE CARES ACT, THE AMOUNT YOU RECEIVED MAY BE SUBJECT TO A COURT STAY PROTECTING THOSE FUNDS DURING THE CURRENT EMERGENCY. YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO REQUEST A HEARING WITH THE COURT, AND THE COURT WILL CONSIDER YOUR REQUEST ON AN EXPEDITED BASIS.”
        TJCTC recommends issuing this notice with all garnishment citations to be served on the garnishee or defendant, as well as ordering any appointed receivers to deliver this notice to the judgment debtor.

      The Order expires August 12, 2020, unless extended by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. 

    • On April 27, the Supreme Court issued a new order (download here), which requires courts to extend all deadlines for filing cases (such as statutes of limitations) or deadlines for serving citations in civil cases that fell between March 13 and June 1 until July 15. This order does not prohibit filing cases or service of citations.

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

    • 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.

      On April 27, this Order was extended, giving courts full power to modify or suspend any deadlines or procedures if necessary to avoid risk for a period no later than the 30th day after Gov. Abbott lifts the disaster declaration. Click here for the extended Order.

      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. 

      This order is currently set to expire June 1.

    •  

      Click here for a sample eviction citation for a remote hearing.

      Click here for a sample notice for a remote eviction hearing.

      Click here for sample Zoom instructions for parties.

      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.

  • Eviction Case Issues - Updated 5/22/20

    • On May 14th, the Texas Supreme Court issued an order stating that the state-imposed eviction moratorium would be allowed to expire, and requiring plaintiffs to show that the CARES Act does not apply to any eviction filed through July 25.

      For any eviction filed beginning March 27 and ending July 25, a plaintiff must include in its petition a statement that the case is not subject to the CARES Act (see the CARES Act FAQ elsewhere on this page for more information). TJCTC's recommendation after consulting with the Supreme Court is that this could be done in an amended petition, including a petition orally amended by presenting sworn evidence or testimony at trial. 

      Courts may (but are not required to) issue eviction citations beginning May 19, 2020. The 10-21 day trial requirement may be suspended, if necessary to avoid risk, by courts until the 30th day after the date Gov. Abbott lifts the disaster declaration (based on the First Emergency Order, as extended).

      Eviction hearings may (but are not required to) be held beginning May 19, 2020. However, note that under current guidance, they must not be held in person (unless an essential "imminent threat" case) until at least June 1, 2020. Please see our Tech Tools and Zoom webinars, as well as the OCA guidance section, on this page for some possible solutions for holding remote hearings.

      Click here for a sample eviction citation for a remote hearing.

      Click here for a sample notice for a remote eviction hearing.

      Click here for sample Zoom instructions for parties.

      Writs of possession may be executed, including the posting of the written warning notice, beginning May 26, 2020. The 60 and 90 day deadlines for writs in Rule 510.8(d) are paused until June 1, and may be extended by courts if needed to avoid risk, until the 30th day after Gov. Abbott lifts the disaster declaration (as authorized under the extended First Emergency Order). 

      Remember that courts are still authorized to suspend any deadlines or procedures (and must suspend if necessary for public health and safety) until the First Emergency Order of the Supreme Court expires (currently June 1, 2020 or the 30th day after Gov. Abbott lifts the disaster declaration).

      Also be sure to note the federal moratoriums on certain evictions under the CARES Act, discussed in its own FAQ on this page.

    • “Imminent threat” evictions have not been expressly defined as essential proceedings, though a court could (and in many cases should) treat them as such. If an “imminent threat” eviction is deemed essential, it could be held in-person but only if it cannot be held electronically, and only in accordance with OCA’s Court Proceedings Guidance.

      If an “imminent threat” is not deemed essential, but still meets the definition of “imminent threat”, the case could go forward immediately but only if it can be held electronically, since OCA’s guidance prohibits in-person non-essential hearings through June 1.

      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 the date for  resuming non-imminent threat evictions.
      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

    • 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.

      To ensure that the court isn’t evicting a tenant in violation of this Act, an affidavit is available here for plaintiffs to fill out before receiving a judgment, swearing that their property is not subject to this moratorium.

      In short, the Act 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 (of rent or other amounts due) 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 notice to vacate 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 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 breaches not related to nonpayment.

      For a FAQ from HUD on these issues, click here.

    • On May 14, the Supreme Court issued an order that any eviction petition filed between March 27 and July 25 must contain a statement from the plaintiff that the eviction is not barred by the CARES Act. See the Residential Eviction Case Guidance section for details.

      The CARES Act (coronavirus stimulus bill) contained provisions halting many evictions for tenants in properties covered by a federally-backed mortgage for 120 days from its enactment (from March 27 until July 24).

      The bill provides a temporary moratorium on evictions for nonpayment of rent or any other amounts due for most residents of federally subsidized apartments, including those supported by HUD, USDA or Treasury (Low Income Housing Tax Credit developments). The bill also institutes a moratorium on filings for evictions for renters in homes covered by federally-backed mortgages for the same period.

      To ensure that the court isn’t evicting a tenant in violation of this Act, an affidavit is available here for plaintiffs to fill out before receiving a judgment, swearing that their property is not subject to this moratorium.

      Landlords can go to the TDCHA website here and click on "HTC Property Inventory (XLSX)" under Additional Guidance and Resources to search a database to determine if their property is subject to the LIHTC restrictions, and can go to this website to check their property against a multi-family housing database.

      Remember also that these properties are subject to a 30-day notice to vacate requirement under the CARES Act, as described elsewhere in this section.

      For a FAQ from HUD on these issues, click here.

    • Commercial evictions 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. 

      Current OCA guidance is that "non-essential" hearings may not be held in-person until at least June 1. After June 1, they may only be held in-person if the local administrative judge has approved an operating plan in order that they may be held safety (see the section on OCA Guidance for Cases After June 1 for more details).

      Therefore, the court should only 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.

    • There has been a statewide increase in unlawful lockouts and utility disconnection during the coronavirus pandemic. TJCTC has a new SRL information packet available on Writs of Retrieval, Re-Entry, and Restoration, and it is now available also in Spanish. Go to www.tjctc.org/SRL to download this packet to make it available to parties in need of the information.

    •  

      Click here for a sample eviction citation for a remote hearing.

      Click here for a sample notice for a remote eviction hearing.

      Click here for sample Zoom instructions for parties.

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

      Click here for OCA's benchcard on public access to electronic hearings.

      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

  • TJCTC Coronavirus Webinars - Updated 5/22/20

  • Issues in Non-Essential Cases - Updated 5/22/20

    • In its Twelfth Emergency Order on April 27, the Supreme Court stated that courts must follow OCA guidance for court proceedings related to social distancing and other restrictions and precautions. See our OCA guidance sections for details on how to proceed, both before and after June 1.

      Click here for sample Zoom instructions for parties.

      See our Tech Tools and Zoom webinars, as well as the OCA Guidance section, on this page for more information on safely holding remote hearings.

      “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

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

    • On May 14, the Supreme Court issued its Sixteenth Emergency Order (click here to read the order) ending the moratoriums placed on "consumer debt" cases and adding new notice requirements for garnishment and receivership proceedings, and requiring a hearing within two days of its request if a person claims their stimulus check has been garnished or seized.

      ("Consumer debt" means an obligation, or an alleged obligation, primarily for personal, family, or household purposes and arising from a transaction or alleged transaction. Finance Code Sec. 392.001(2) - Note that this is much broader than the definition of debt claim cases, so these procedures will apply in many non-"debt claim" cases).

      1. Service of writs of garnishment in "consumer debt" cases may resume May 26, 2020;
      2. Receivers appointed under Chapter 31 of the CPRC may resume freezing accounts at financial institutions on May 18, 2020;
      3. In "consumer debt" cases, individual judgment debtors or receivers can request a hearing, which must be held within two business days of the request, to determine which funds are attributable to a coronavirus stimulus payment. (The hearing can be in-person or remote, and must be remote through at least June 1, unless designated as an essential proceeding). 
      4. Courts and turnover receivers appointed under CPRC Section 31.002 must release or refund any stimulus payments affected by garnishment or turnover;
      5. Judgment debtors in "consumer debt" cases must receive (in any manner prescribed for service of citation or as provided in Rule 21a) in a garnishment proceeding or a proceeding where a receiver has been appointed the following notice: 
        “IF YOU RECEIVED A STIMULUS PAYMENT FROM THE IRS UNDER THE CARES ACT, THE AMOUNT YOU RECEIVED MAY BE SUBJECT TO A COURT STAY PROTECTING THOSE FUNDS DURING THE CURRENT EMERGENCY. YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO REQUEST A HEARING WITH THE COURT, AND THE COURT WILL CONSIDER YOUR REQUEST ON AN EXPEDITED BASIS.”
        TJCTC recommends issuing this notice with all garnishment citations to be served on the garnishee or defendant, as well as ordering any appointed receivers to deliver this notice to the judgment debtor.

      The Order expires August 12, 2020, unless extended by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. 

    • Courts are forbidden from holding default judgment hearings or issuing default judgments in "consumer debt" cases until May 18, and any answer deadline must be tolled until then, and may be tolled until the expiration of the First Emergency Order, currently June 1 (or the 30th day after Gov. Abbott lifts the emergency declaration). See the section on the Supreme Court's Consumer Debt Case Order for more information.

      For cases that are not "consumer debt" cases, TJCTC recommends tolling any answer deadlines that occurred after March 13, 2020 until after the expiration of the Supreme Court's First Emergency Order. 

      If an answer date was before March 13th, the court could only hold a default hearing if the case is not a consumer debt case and the default hearing (as a non-essential case) could be held remotely. OCA has issued guidance that non-essential cases may not be held in person until June 1.

      Note that the defendant must be noticed of the default judgment hearing, since it is a hearing that must be requested by the plaintiff. 

    • 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.

    • 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 a sample notice for a remote hearing.

      Click here for sample Zoom instructions for parties.

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

      Click here for OCA's benchcard on public access to electronic hearings.

      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

  • TJCTC Information - Updated 4/23/20

    • 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 FAQ sections on this page, 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.

      For more information please see the discussion above under the FAQ on Supreme Court and 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 has released updated information for FY 2020 judicial education hours. Please click here for details. For information on new judges and the cancellation of Stage III of New Judge School, please click here.

      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. 

      TJCTC is still open for business, working remotely! 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

       

  • Magistration Issues - Updated 4/15/20

    • TJCTC has created 22 bench cards designed for use as a quick and handy reference guide during the magistration process. Click here to download the bench cards!

    • 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 20-26 of the revised Magistration Deskbook.

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

    • Guidelines for Using a Defendant’s Current Criminal History at Magistration

      As explained in this FAQ section, on March 29, 2020, Governor Abbott issued Executive Order GA-13 prohibiting the release of a defendant on a personal bond if the defendant is currently arrested for, or was previously convicted of, a crime that involves physical violence or the threat of physical violence.

      One of the questions we posed at the time was how does a magistrate know whether or not a defendant has any such prior convictions?

      In order to assist in this determination, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards has issued a Technical Assistance Memorandum requiring that any magistrate who is conducting a magistration, whether in person or by video conference, be provided a copy of the Current Criminal History (“CCH”) of the defendant.

      A copy of the Commission’s memorandum may be viewed here. All of the Technical Assistance published by TCJS may be found at https://www.tcjs.state.tx.us/technical-assistance/.

      Guidelines for Using the CCH:
      The Commission has provided the following guidelines with respect to the distribution and use of this sensitive information:

      1. The CCH may be faxed to the magistrate.
      2. The CCH may be emailed to the magistrate but only to a law enforcement or official government email account (therefore, it cannot be emailed to a gmail, yahoo or other commercial or private account).
      3. If emailed, it must be encrypted in accordance with the Criminal Justice Information System Security Policy.
      4. If the magistrate prints the CCH, it must be destroyed after use or placed in the case file.
      5. Any magistrate who uses video magistration must be given a copy of the guidelines and verify receipt and acknowledgement of these restrictions concerning CCH.

      Suggestions for Compliance:

      1. Use your county email or fax. If you are conducting video magistrations (which we strongly recommend) and do not have those capabilities at home, try to get a fax service set up at your home (your judicial technology fund should cover this) or consult with your county attorney or other county officials concerning secure email service using county email.
      2. If you do receive and print the CCH, destroy it after magistration and make a notation in the file concerning when and how it was destroyed.
      3. If you are not able to obtain the CCH by fax or secure email, then ask the jail staff if they see anything in the defendant’s record that would potentially trigger the Governor’s directive in Executive Order GA-13. If the jail staff indicate they do not see any evidence of a prior conviction of an offense involving physical violence or the threat of physical violence, note that fact in the magistration record.
      4. If you order a defendant released on a personal bond (as opposed to a bail bond), then you should order as a bond condition that the defendant report immediately to CSCD (or another county official or agency, such as the county attorney or sheriff) upon being released from custody and request that CSCD (or other county official) conduct a review of the CCH to confirm that the defendant does not have a prior conviction of an offense involving physical violence or the threat of physical violence. If CSCD (or other county official) indicates that the defendant does have a prior conviction for such an offense, then order a bond modification hearing to determine whether the defendant should be required to post a bail bond rather than a personal bond.
      5. These measures do not apply to any offense for which a defendant is not eligible for release on a personal bond under Art. 17.03.
      6. If you conduct a video magistration, verify receipt and acknowledgement of the Commission’s Guidelines.

      We will advise you of any further developments concerning the CCH Guidelines.

    • 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 or Gov. Abbott's Executive Order (discussed elsewhere on this page), 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. 20 – 26 of our revised 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.

    • 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 Texas Commision on Mental Health (JCMH) wanted to make sure you knew that they have created a COVID webpage where they have compiled national and state resources to help you navigate this difficult time.

  • Inquest Issues - Updated 4/7/20

    • When out on death calls, the judge should always be protecting themselves from the potential spread of COVID-19. One of the ways that they can do that is by wearing appropriate PPE.

      Guidelines That May be Helpful:

      From the CDC: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/respirator-use-faq.html

      From the National Funeral Directors Association: www.nfda.org/covid-19/technical-information

      Medical examiners have suggested JPs should contact their county emergency operating center or emergency coordinator (in many places this is the county judge). The JP may be able to order PPE through them.

      One medical examiner also said that she knows that Amazon and other retailers are stocking masks and disinfectant that they are only selling to medical and governmental entities. The judge can coordinate purchases like this through their county purchasing department, treasurer, or auditor.

      Other potential resources are local law enforcement or emergency medical services. They may be willing to share any extra PPE that they have or let a JP’s office add on to an upcoming bulk order. Many law enforcement suppliers stock PPE that is recommended and may have still have some available.

      It is important to note that PPE is scarce for everyone right now, so be patient, use the resources that you have, and try to work with your county partners to make sure everyone is operating safely.

    • 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. 

  • Constable Resources - Updated 5/22/20

    • Travis County has shared their response plan and strategies, which other offices may choose to implement. 

      Click here for a SOP issued by the Travis County Sheriff's Office.

      Click here for a SOP issued by Travis County Constable Precinct 5.

       

    • 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, unless constable resources and local conditions permit moving forward with service in non-essential cases. Note that all cases must be held in compliance with OCA guidance, both before and after June 1, as described elsewhere on this page.

    • 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 through May 18th, with no writs of possession executed through May 25th. 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.

    • 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.

       

    • 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. 

    • Lexipol has opened up access to their resources for all law enforcement, not just agencies who pay for their services. Now might be a good time for constable offices to take advantage of these policy and education resources. Their website is https://coronavirus.lexipol.com/.  Additionally, they have a webinar featuring an expert panel discussing coronavirus issues for law enforcement, which you can view here.

      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 was posted to the site on April 3rd.

  • 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 view a webinar on managing your stress so that you can continue to effectively serve your community.

    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