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  • Supreme Court Orders, OCA Guidance, and AG Opinions - Updated 8/6/20

    • In Opinion No. KP-0322 (issued August 3), Attorney General Paxton responded to a request for opinion on the authority of judges to require face coverings in courtrooms, courthouses, and county buildings, and how to resolve differences in separate branch orders that conflict.

      The opinion states that:

      • A commissioners court may require any person entering a courthouse or other county-owned or controlled building to wear a facial covering;

      • A county judge operating under a local disaster order could require a person to wear a facial covering when occupying a courthouse or other county-owned or controlled building;

      • Judges possess broad inherent authority to control orderly proceedings in their courtrooms, and pursuant to that authority, they could require individuals in the courtroom to wear facial coverings;

      • In addition, because of the Supreme Court’s emergency orders requiring all judges to comply with guidance promulgated by the Office of Court Administration, which requires facial coverings by all individuals while in the courthouse, courts may require any person entering the courthouse in which they preside to wear a facial covering while in the courthouse;

      • Under Executive Order GA-29, individuals who fail to comply can be fined up to $250 for an individual’s second violation of a mask requirement;

      • In addition, public officials may deny entry to those individuals refusing to wear a facial covering; and

      • Issues of conflicting orders issued by various local officials within the same county should be resolved by coordinating with each other. Which official’s order would prevail in any particular circumstance may raise separation of powers issues and would be determined after reviewing the specific orders at issue and the corresponding authority of the public officials to issue those orders.

    • This guidance on the Supreme Court’s 18th Order was written by the COVID-19 Justice Court Workgroup created by the Texas Supreme Court to help address issues that face justice courts during the pandemic.

      Click here to download the guide.

      Note that the 20th Emergency Order issued on July 21st extends the requirement for the CARES Act affidavit for eviction cases filed through August 24th, the 21st Emergency Order issued on July 31st extends any statute of limitations deadline  falling from March 13 and September 1 to September 15, and the 22nd Emergency Order extends the jury trial restriction to October 1, as well as extending courts' powers under the 18th Order through September 30.

    • 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 May 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 ending no later than September 30th. Note that the date of lifting the disaster by the Governor is no longer relevant to the modification or suspensions. 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 September 30.

    • The Supreme Court has extended its prohibition on jury proceedings until October 1st in its 22nd Emergency Order (read here). Jury trials may not be held unless all of the following requirements are met:

      • The judge must request the jury proceeding.
      • Adequate social distancing and other precautions must be taken to ensure the health and safety of court staff, parties, attorneys, jurors, and the public.
      • All reasonable steps must be taken to protect parties' statutory and constitutional rights.
      • All jurors must be admonished to ensure no outside influence is present, and proper attention by jurors is given (especially appropriate in remote proceedings).
      • Jurors may not be permitted or required to appear remotely unless the court ensures that all potential and selected jurors have access to technology to participate remotely. This can be accomplished either at home or by having the jurors appear at a court-controlled remote location instead of the courtroom or at home.
      • OCA must be permitted to observe the processes to help develop best practice reports.
    • Under the Supreme Court's 22nd Emergency Order, issued August 6, 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.

      Regional Presiding Judges are responsible for ensuring that courts, including justice courts, are complying with OCA guidance and Supreme Court Orders, and are to report violations to the Supreme Court.

      All in-person hearings must be 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 in-person proceedings longer or who are advised to do so by local public health authorities may do so, as long as remote hearings can be effectively held. Note that special rules apply to jury proceedings, see the separate page in this section for details.

      Courts must use all reasonable efforts to conduct proceedings remotely. 
      All proceedings, both essential and non-essential, should occur remotely (such as by teleconferencing, videoconferencing, or other means) unless litigants or other court participants are unable to successfully participate in a remote hearing for reasons beyond the court’s control.

      Click here to watch OCA's July 31 webinar on holding effective remote hearings in justice court.

      Courts may require all persons to participate remotely. With the introduction of the remote proceedings capability through Zoom, most essential and non-essential proceedings, except for jury trials, can be conducted remotely, and there are no limitations on these remote proceedings so long as reasonable notice and access is provided to the participants and the public.

      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 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.

      OCA Guidance on Face Coverings
      OCA has stated that under a court’s inherent power to govern the court atmosphere, a judge may require all persons who enter his or her courtroom or any other area of the building or facility to conduct or participate in a court proceeding to wear a face covering.

      OCA guidance, linked above, requires courts to address the use of face coverings in their operating plan. Therefore, how such a requirement is implemented and enforced in your court should be part of the mandatory operating plan developed by the local administrative district judge for your county, as described above.

      If your county's operating plan does not address how to proceed in the event a person does not have a face covering or refuses to wear one, we suggest you promptly raise this issue with your local administrative district judge and request that it be included in the operating 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.

    • Click here to watch OCA's July 31 webinar on effective remote hearings in justice court. 

      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.

      Click here for best practices for Zoom hearings involving self-represented litigants or litigants with disabilities, from Texas Access to Justice.

      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 procedures for handling in-person cases 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 July 21st, the Texas Supreme Court issued its Twentieth Emergency Order, which extended the requirement that 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 20th Emergency Order
      For any case filed from March 27 through August 24, 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). This could be done in an amended petition, including a petition orally amended by presenting sworn evidence or testimony at trial. 

      Effects of the 18th Emergency Order
      Courts may (but are not required to) issue citations now. The 10-21 day trial requirement may be suspended, if necessary to avoid risk, by courts until a date no later than September 30th

      Eviction hearings may (but are not required to) resume now. However, note that under current guidance, they should be held remotely when possible and may not be held in person except as provided by the county's mandatory operating plan. See the section on Residential Eviction Guidance for more information on holding remote eviction hearings, including sample forms and instructions, and the OCA guidance section for more on mandatory operating plans.

      Writs of possession may now be executed. The 60 and 90 day deadlines for writs in Rule 510.8(d) may be extended by courts if needed to avoid risk, until a date no later than September 30th

    • On August 6, the Supreme Court extended its previous order (read here), which now 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 September 1 until September 15. This order does not prohibit filing cases or service of citations, and does not affect filing deadlines within cases, such as answer deadlines.

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

    • 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. 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, but must comply with the county's mandatory operating plan if in-person). 
      2. Courts and turnover receivers appointed under CPRC Section 31.002 must release or refund any stimulus payments affected by garnishment or turnover;
      3. 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. 

    • 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.

  • Eviction Cases - Updated 8/7/20

    • TJCTC is aware that many courts have begun receiving records request for eviction case records. Often, these requests are for courts to continually send new case records to the requestor. 

      Case records are generally open to the public under common law. This means you should release any records on existing cases. Courts can deny access to records if they will be used "for an improper purpose" and should redact personal information such as social security or driver license numbers, as well as financial information like bank account numbers.

      However, courts do not have an obligation to create new records, nor are courts obligated to honor requests for "future" records. Your court can choose to comply with the request to send future records if desired, or can require the requestor to continue filing new requests. 

      Note that many of these requests cite the Public Information Act (PIA). The PIA does not apply to the judiciary, however, these requests should be treated as requests for records under the common law as described above. 

      TJCTC is currently putting the final touches on the Recordkeeping and Reporting Deskbook. For information on releasing records until it is ready, see below:

      Click here for an OCA flowchart on releasing case records.

      Click here for an OCA flowchart on releasing judicial records (which are court records other than those dealing with cases).

      Click here for a handout on record requests and release. 

    • While there is no specific requirement in any of the Orders or Guidance that applies to this situation, remember that under the 22nd Emergency Order, that the court has the authority to modify or suspend any procedures, and must do so to protect the health and safety of all involved, including constables, court staff, and parties.

      This authority currently extends through September 30.

      Many courts in this situation are postponing the case for two weeks and then having the defendant check back in with an updated status. 

    • The CARES Act creates a moratorium on evictions for nonpayment in properties receiving federal assistance or with federally-backed mortgages. No eviction may be filed for nonpayment in these properties through July 24, and no notice to vacate may be given until July 24, and the notice to vacate must be for at least 30 days. This means that practically no CARES Act-impacted eviction can be filed before August 25th.

      For any eviction filed beginning March 27 through August 24, 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). 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 now. The 10-21 day trial requirement may be suspended, if necessary to avoid risk, by courts until a date no later than September 30th (as authorized under the 22nd Emergency Order). 

      Eviction hearings may (but are not required to) be held now. However, note that under current guidance, they must not be held in person unless held in compliance with the county's mandatory operating plan. 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 and details on mandatory operating plans.

      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 now. The 60 and 90 day deadlines for writs in Rule 510.8(d) may be extended by courts if needed to avoid risk, until a date no later than September 30th (as authorized under the 22nd 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 authorization under the Emergency Orders of the Supreme Court expires (currently September 30th, 2020).

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

    • 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.

      The Texas Supreme Court requires that the plaintiff must include in its petition (either original or amended) a statement that the CARES Act doesn't apply to the case. 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.This requirement applies to all evictions filed from March 27 through August 24.

      In short, the Act applies to all housing programs such as 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.

    • The Texas Supreme Court requires that any eviction petition filed between March 27 and August 24 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. Additionally, the Court has made clear that justice courts can develop the facts of the case at trial to determine whether the CARES Act applies to an eviction case and whether the proper Notice to Vacate was given. 

      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.

    • The CARES Act itself does not apply to commercial evictions, since it only applies to "dwellings."  However, the Supreme Court requirement that a petition state whether the CARES Act applies does apply to commercial evictions, since the Supreme Court didn't limit it to residential evictions. Your court could treat a statement in the petition that the property is commercial property as satisfying the requirement, since by definition commercial property isn't covered.

      Current OCA guidance is that in-person hearings 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).

      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 to watch OCA's July 31 webinar on holding effective remote hearings in justice court.

      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 for Zoom hearings involving self-represented litigants or litigants with disabilities, from Texas Access to Justice.

      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

  • Non-Eviction Civil Cases - Updated 8/7/20

    • Here is a new answer form for use in small claims cases, developed with TJCTC assistance by the Texas COVID-19 Workgroup. This form captures information about the defendant's ability to participate in remote hearings.

    • In its 22nd Emergency Order on August 6, 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, including the requirement of compliance with the county's mandatory operating plan for any in-person proceedings.

      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.

    • 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. 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 held in compliance with the county's mandatory operating plan if held in-person). 
      2. Courts and turnover receivers appointed under CPRC Section 31.002 must release or refund any stimulus payments affected by garnishment or turnover;
      3. 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 permitted, and should do so when necessary to protect public safety, to toll any answer deadlines that occurred after March 13 until a date no later than September 30, as authorized by the Supreme Court's 22nd Emergency Order. 

      If an answer date was before March 13th, the court could only hold a default hearing in compliance with updated OCA guidance, including a county mandatory operating plan if held in-person.

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

    • 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 state and local restrictions on gatherings. 

    • Click here to watch OCA's July 31 webinar on holding effective remote hearings in justice court.

      Click here for a sample notice for a remote hearing.

      Click here for sample Zoom instructions for parties.

      Click here for best practices for Zoom hearings involving self-represented litigants or litigants with disabilities, from Texas Access to Justice.

      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

  • Criminal Cases - Updated 8/6/20

    • On July 2, Gov. Abbott issued Executive Order GA-29, requiring face coverings in public, except in counties with 20 or less COVID-19 cases which go through an exemption process. Click here to read the order and click here to see the list of exempted counties. Also note that the order includes certain exclusions, such as children under 10 years of age, people driving either alone or only with household members, etc. 

      Since the penalty for violation is a maximum fine of $250, without possibility of incarceration, this offense is a fine-only misdemeanor, and should be handled like any other fine-only misdemeanor criminal case. Additionally, the first violation only carries a warning, so the state would need to prove the defendant had been warned, unless the defendant pleads guilty or nolo contendere.

      The defendant would be eligible for deferred disposition.

      Court costs would be the same as what your county charges for any other non-Rules of the Road criminal offense, such as criminal mischief, disorderly conduct, or public intoxication. See the Fines, Fees, and Costs Deskbook for more information on determining court costs.

    • 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.

    • 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.

      As always, use common sense, discretion, and an evaluation of the situation in your locality to determine how to proceed in this area.

    • Questions have come up on how to handle defendants who are unable to immediately pay fines and court costs, since community service may be difficult to perform due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

      TJCTC would certainly encourage any court to use common sense and discretion with regard to community service, such as allowing home-based projects to count as community service. Projects ordered would depend on the offense (for example on alcohol-based offenses, courts have allowed defendants to write papers describing the effects of alcohol, etc.).

       

      TJCTC also encourages courts to waive court costs rather than having defendants perform community service for them. Last session the law changed allowing, but not mandating, waiver of court costs without a finding of undue hardship for community service.

       

      The purpose of court costs is to reimburse the system, not to punish the defendant, and that purpose isn’t accomplished by performance of community service to "work off" court costs. Of course, the fine is punitive, and the court certainly may require community service to satisfy fines unless there is a showing of undue hardship for the defendant to perform community service.

       

      Also remember, the defendant should be released from Omni once they enter into a community service agreement (not once the community service is completed) and the Omni fee is either paid or waived due to indigence. See P. 87 of the Criminal Deskbook.

    • Click here to watch OCA's July 31 webinar on holding effective remote hearings in justice court.

      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 for Zoom hearings involving self-represented litigants or litigants with disabilities, from Texas Access to Justice.

      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

  • Coronavirus-Related Webinars - Updated 8/6/20

  • TJCTC Information - Updated 7/21/20

    • 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. Also, please visit our Online Learning page here. For information on new judges and the cancellation of Stage III of New Judge School, please click here.

      Live education events through August have been canceled. Continue monitoring our webpage for more information on the 2020-21 academic year. 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

  • 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 6/2/20

    • 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 hold cases in a manner that protects public health and safety. This means that best practice would be for courts to proceed in a way that ensures constable resources and local conditions permit moving forward with service. Note that all cases must be held in compliance with OCA guidance, as described elsewhere on this page.

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

      If you have process to serve, 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 if it will allow you to do so safely. Many tasks, such as service of citations, do not have specific guidelines on timeframes that you must follow. Additionally, courts are permitted to extend timeframes and deadlines if necessary for health and safety through September 30.

    • 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, which allows postponement for a period no later than September 30, 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/.  For information on securing grants to respond to COVID-19, go to https://www.lexipol.com/coronavirus/grant-funding/. 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.

  • 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