All criminal and civil jury trials previously scheduled at the Flagler County courthouse are suspended for two weeks, Seventh Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Raul Zambrano said late this afternoon, in accordance with an administrative order from the state Supreme Court. The order applies statewide.
If you have a summons for jury duty this Monday, you must not report to the courthouse.
Within the same hour, the state Department of Education ordered all school districts to keep their doors closed through March 30 as effects from the cornonavirus pandemic continue to sweep the state and the nation, as they have the rest of the world. All extra-curricular activities across the state are also postponed for the next 14 days. The Flagler district began its one-week spring break today, so the current order affects just five days of school, though it is likelier than not that, as with all virus-related scheduling, further orders may be issued.
“A decision such as this is not an easy one to make,” Superintendent Jim Tager said in a statement. “I understand this will put pressures on many of our families but the Flagler Schools team will be working to determine what, if any services we can give our families the week following Spring Break.”
Details of the order are unclear as to make-up days or remote instruction, but the state Department of Education has pushed back all scheduled state testing two weeks for now.
The judicial order affects all grand juries as well. Most other court functions will remain on the schedule, but that could change rapidly, Zambrano said. In Flagler, Circuit Judge Terence Perkins moved all other criminal proceedings to March 31 docket sounding.
The courthouse offices and functions remain open and operating according to normal schedules, as do injunctions, family court, traffic court and the like.
“The health and safety of our courthouse, staff and the public is our top priority, but we must also make sure that continued access to the judiciary and to the Clerk of Court’s services are maintained,” Clerk of Court Tom Bexley said.
Court staff ordered hundreds of dollars’ worth of hand sanitizers and Clorox wipes to be cautious, Bexley said, balancing safety with the “merit in showing there’s some way of continuing to do business.”
Up to 250 residents are summoned to jury duty the third week of each month, gathering in the Flagler County courthouse’s Jury Assembly Room and Courtroom 101 before being broken up in groups of 40 or 50 for jury selection in individual courtrooms, then pared down to juries of six or eight individuals, all the while remaining in close quarters that make 6-foot social separations impossible.
Flagler County officials are following the lead of Governor Ron DeSantis and urging residents to follow restrictive CDC and Department of Health guidelines as well. The county late this afternoon issued a statement asking event organizers to consider their attendees, as well as employees, and cancel or postpone events that attract large crowds – especially when those events are held indoors.
The Flagler Playhouse was following suit, cancelling performances. Flagler County UF/IFAS Extension has postponed or canceled events it organizes or sponsors through the end of April 2020. The Extension Office remains open for business. Facility use to outside organizations that are not a part of UF/IFAS will continue to be supported until further notice.
These guidelines also include travel limitations and public interaction, especially for those who are most at risk for complications from COVID-19, such as older adults and those with serious chronic medical conditions.
“We are doing this out of an abundance of caution,” said Emergency Management Director Jonathan Lord. “It will be well worth the inconvenience if this helps limit the number of cases we see.”
Monday’s regularly scheduled Board of County Commission Meeting will still be held at 5 p.m. in the Commission Chambers. Residents won’t be turned away, but they’re urged to watch online here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCbH-zderuZg0xe1s84x05rQ.