The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
Conroe and Austin, March 16 – Courts across Texas and in Montgomery County, in particular, are contemplating partial or complete closures during March and April, 2020, as a result of fears of the spread of COVID-19, the foreign virus also known as “coronavirus,” as President Donald Trump has explained it. Late in the afternoon of Sunday, March 15, 2020, 284th District Judge Kristin Bays announced, “COVID-19 is both stealthy and aggressive. The lesson we’ve learned from Italy is that we should avoid congregations of people to slow the spread of the virus…The 284th District Court heeds that lesson.”
Judge Bays announced several procedures she has implemented to avoid “congregations of people” as much as possible while still maintaining efficient Court operations. Montgomery County has a substantial backlog of civil cases to such a degree that the 86th Texas Legislature created a new district court, the 457th District Court, which will only handle civil cases on its docket. The new court awaits the election of a judge to run it.
On March 15, 2020, District Judge Jennifer Robin of the 410th District Court issued the following letter Order:
On March 13, 2020, Governor Abbott declared a state of disaster for all counties in the state of Texas as a result of the imminent threat posed by COVID-19. Thereafter, on that same day, the Texas Supreme Court issued an Emergency Order. On March 14, 2020, County Judge Mark Keough informed the public, via Facebook, that Montgomery County has had a fourth positive test for COVID-19. Accordingly, this Court issues the following modifications and suspension of certain dockets effective immediately and through April 1, 2020:
1). For cases where at least one party is represented by an attorney:
- a) Agreed final orders in family law cases that require “prove-ups” for finalization, including divorce decrees, original SAPCRS orders, and modification orders (excluding modifications with no change of custody), whether currently scheduled on a bench docket or on an ancillary docket between this date and April 1, 2020, shall be proved up by affidavit of at least one party, filed with the Court, along with the agreed final order signed by all necessary parties. No appearance in Court shall be necessary during this period.
Affidavits for agreed decrees of divorce should be substantially in this format, with the style and caption of the case appearing at the top of the page.
If you meet the above criteria and are currently scheduled on a docket between March 17, 2020 through April 1, 2020, you shall comply with this temporary, emergency modification of the Court’s dockets or else call/email the Court to reschedule your matter to a later date or file a motion for continuance if your matter is scheduled on your trial date/week.
If you meet the above criteria and are not currently scheduled on a docket between March 17, 2020 and April 1, 2020, and you wish to be added to a submission docket, please contact the court after you have filed the agreed order and accompanying affidavit, and ask to be put on a docket for submission for your agreed order.
- b) All nonessential, oral, in-person evidentiary hearings currently scheduled to be heard between March 17, 2020 and April 1, 2020, are hereby canceled. You will not receive further notice. Do not appear in Court. “Essential evidentiary hearings” shall include protective order hearings,
CPS removal hearings, and temporary restraining order hearings in civil and family law matters. If you are scheduled for a temporary orders hearing (with no T.R.O.) in a family law matter during this period, your matter is canceled. You will need to call or email the Court on April 1, 2020 to be re-scheduled. Do not contact the Court for a reset date prior to April 1, 2020, as the Court is continuing to closely watch the situation, and to heed Governor Abbott’s and the Texas Supreme Court’s recommendations and orders.
If you have an emergency that requires an immediate hearing, file the appropriate motion and contact the Court so that the Court may review and determine whether it should be set for oral hearing.
If you are scheduled between March 17, 2020 and April 1, 2020 on an “essential evidentiary hearing,” you may be contacted to reset your matter to a date and time in the near future in order to coordinate the appropriate measures to minimize viral exposure. The Court will modify its docket as much as possible to prevent the accumulation of parties and witnesses in the courtroom. The Court may impose further restrictions or requirements, including electronic exhibits only, or possibly participation via video conferencing.
If your “nonessential evidentiary hearing” during the stated dates has been canceled by the Court, you may contact the Court to set said matter for hearing by submission in accordance with the Local Rules of Montgomery County, Texas. Motions to enter shall be heard by submission during this time.
c) All motions that were previously required to be heard by submission shall continue to be placed on submission dockets during this period. Call or email the Court to be placed on a submission docket.
- d) If you were scheduled for a Pre-Trial hearing on March 20, 2020, your matter is being continued and you will be sent a new scheduling order shortly. If you are on that docket and simply need to do a prove-up in your case, see the above directions on having your matter set to be proved up via affidavit and submission.
- e) April jury trials are canceled and the Court will send you a continuance order this week.
2). For cases where both parties are Pro se:
a) If you received notice that your prove-up docket was reset to March 30, 2020, please contact Sarah Wedd at the law library.
(email@example.com) on or after March 18, 2020, so that the Court may coordinate with her to allow you to do your prove-up via affidavit and submission.
- b) If you would like to be set on a prove-up docket in the future, please contact the Court (firstname.lastname@example.org).
- c) If you were scheduled for a Pre-Trial hearing on March 20, 2020, your matter is being continued and you will be sent a new scheduling order shortly.
3). 3/12/20 Standing Order:
A Standing Order was issued by the 410th District Court on March 12, 2020, to minimize the number of people who must gather in the courtroom for Friday Pre-Trial dockets. Despite the fact that Pre-Trial hearings have been canceled for the period between March 17th and April 1st, the Standing Order remains in full force and effect until further notice, and remains applicable to all Pre-Trial hearings scheduled after April 1, 2020.
This Court shall re-evaluate the circumstances, and may extend these provisions, if necessary, to protect the health and safety of the public. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to call or email the Court. We will continue moving cases by submission, answering phone calls and emails, and hearing essential evidentiary hearings during this time. Please do not appear in-person in the Court’s office, as Court personnel would like to minimize his/her own exposure. Please check the Court’s website for future updates.
On behalf of myself and my staff, we appreciate your cooperation and hope that each of you and your loved ones remain healthy.
Presiding Judge, 410th District Court
On Friday, March 13, 2020, County Court at Law Number Three Judge Patrice McDonald, whose Court hears family law cases, issued the following order in all cases before that Court:
“The Court requests that, in lieu of personal appearance at the docket call/pre- trial conference scheduled on March 17 and 24, 2020, attorneys and pro se parties appear in writing) by either filing an Announcement of Ready or a Motion for Continuance. DO NOT APPEAR IN PERSON. Announcements of Ready and Motions for Continuance for trials set for March 30, 2020 should be filed on or before March 20, 2020 at 5:00 p.m.. Announcements of Ready and Motions for Continuance for trials set for April 6, 2020 should be filed on or before March 27, 2020 at 5:00 p.m.. Announcements of Ready should contain that party’s estimate of trial time. Motions for Continuance should be accompanied by a proposed order containing a proposed trial reset date. Upon receipt by the Court of an Announcement of Ready or Motion for Continuance you will be contacted by the Court regarding your trial date/time.”
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest criminal court in Texas, closed for three days on Friday, March 13, 2020. It is unclear whether that court will reopen on Monday. The Golden Hammer has confirmed through the Texas Office of Court Administration that several courts of appeals are contemplating closures and will announce them early this coming week. Additionally, several District, County, and Municipal Courts have already officially announced closures across the State of Texas.