Like most courts in Washington, Seattle Municipal Court rescheduled its out of custody preliminary hearings and struck all jury trials when the state instituted its initial “stay at home” mandate. Unlike most courts, when it became clear that this mandate was going to be extended and re-opening the courts delayed, it cancelled all of its out of custody hearings until further notice. Instead of continuing to cancel, reschedule, cancel, reschedule, etc., like many of its counterparts, Seattle Municipal Court decided to cancel everything and then reschedule in an orderly fashion once it felt re-opening could be done safely. The details of that plan are spelled out in General Administrative Order No. 2020-07.
Seattle Municipal Court GAO 2020-07
Ordered on April 15, 2020, for the purpose of addressing the Covid-19 public health crisis and to protect the safety of all visitors to the Seattle Municipal Court, the presiding judge issued General Administrative Order 2020-07. Effective until further order of the court, the main provisions of the order were as follows:
- Emergency operations to be limited to in-custody hearings only
- Removed requirement for defendant signatures on certain legal pleadings
- Eliminated new criminal filings on out of custody matters until further order
- Cancelled of all out of custody matters between March 16, 2020, and July 16, 2020, or until court resumes regular operations.
- Rescheduled hearing notices to be mailed out once court re-opens
- Cancellation of all jury trials scheduled through July 31, 2020.
Covid-19 and Seattle Municipal Court Moving Forward
Seattle Municipal Court, like all Washington Courts, will face many challenges in providing a safe venue for its employees, attorneys, defendants and visitors alike in a pre-vaccine and treatment Covid-19 environment. Even during slow times, this is a very busy courthouse. It was not designed with spaciousness in mind, though it probably has more square foot capacity per visitor than most courts. The elevators are small, hallways narrow and though courtrooms are relatively spacious, the accommodations for defendants and their attorneys is tight. Defendants sit in narrow, closely spaced pews while their attorneys either sit next to them or close by. No doubt those in charge are looking into:
- Reconfiguring the courtrooms to allow for adequate social distancing
- Looking into conducting certain hearings electronically, by phone or video
- Requiring all visitors wear masks
- Scheduling fewer in-person hearings at a given time
- Allowing agreed motions to be conducted off the record
Covid-19 effects on Seattle DUI cases
People facing Seattle DUI charges probably won’t see changes much different than those charged with mainstream criminal offenses. One area that likely will differ is with respect to the initial arraignment. While arraignment for most charges can be waived, state law still mandates that those charged with DUI be arraigned by a judge or magistrate. Seattle Municipal Court could potentially allow electronic hearings for DUI arraignments, it seems more likely that these hearings will remain being in person.
As Seattle Municipal Court updates its Covid-19 procedures, we will do our best to present these updates by way of blog posts, links to which will be posted below.
June 15, 2020, update: Seattle Municipal Court to Re-open in Phases