Court Coronavirus Information

Court Operation Guidance 

Recent Updates

May 26, 2021

Supreme Court Issues Updated Emergency Order

Today the Supreme Court issued the 38th Emergency Order, extending the 36th Emergency Order as amended. The key changes are:

  • Courts are permitted to modify or suspend any and all deadlines and procedures for a period no later than August 1 (was previously June 1);
  • In CPS termination proceedings, all deadlines and procedures are permitted to be modified or suspended until August 1, except that the dismissal date may be extended until December 1, February 1, or April 1, depending on certain circumstances.

As stated last week, courts may continue to take any reasonable action to avoid exposing court proceedings and participants to the threat of COVID-19. As stated in Attorney General Opinion KP-0322, “judges possess broad inherent authority to control orderly proceedings in their courtrooms, and pursuant to that authority, they can require individuals in the courtroom to wear facial coverings” and “may require any person entering the courthouse in which they preside to wear a facial covering while in the courthouse.” Previously-issued executive orders do not alter the Supreme Court’s current emergency order, the ability of a judge to control his or her courtroom, or judiciary-imposed requirements for those entering a court building who will be attending a court proceeding.

OCA Updates Best Practice Recommendations for Health Considerations

OCA has updated the best practice recommendations for health considerations to be consistent with CDC and DSHS guidance.

As always, if you have questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to reach out to coronavirus@txcourts.gov.

 

May 18, 2021

As you may be aware, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has issued new health recommendations for fully vaccinated individuals recommending that fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear a face covering or socially distance in any setting. In addition, today, Governor Abbott issued Executive Order GA-34 strongly encouraging individuals to continue wearing face coverings over the nose and mouth whenever social distancing is not possible, but stating that no person can be required by any jurisdiction to wear or to mandate the wearing of a face covering. Certain entities are permitted to impose increased restrictions, including county judges in areas with high hospitalization, businesses, nursing and long-term care facilities, public schools, and county and municipal jails.

As the Supreme Court’s 36th Emergency Order states, courts may take any reasonable action to avoid exposing court proceedings to the threat of COVID-19, including requiring compliance with social distancing protocols and face coverings worn over the nose and mouth. As stated in Attorney General Opinion KP-0322, “judges possess broad inherent authority to control orderly proceedings in their courtrooms, and pursuant to that authority, they can require individuals in the courtroom to wear facial coverings” and “may require any person entering the courthouse in which they preside to wear a facial covering while in the courthouse.” The executive order issued today does not alter the Supreme Court’s current emergency order, the ability of a judge to control his or her courtroom, or requirements for those entering a court building who will be attending a court proceeding. As the Supreme Court’s 36th Emergency Order expires on June 1, a new order is expected in the coming days.

While OCA will issue a full set of updated best practices in the coming days, OCA plans to alter its best practices recommendations to be consistent with CDC Guidance for face coverings and social distancing. Fully vaccinated persons should not be required but encouraged to wear a face covering, and fully vaccinated individuals should not be required to socially distance. Otherwise, courts should encourage all court participants and individuals in the courtroom to wear a face covering and socially distance, especially those who are unvaccinated. This may require designating certain parts of a court facility and courtrooms as a face-covering and/or socially-distanced zone while others are not. Courts should not inquire about vaccination status as this information is private information.

 

April 28, 2021

Supreme Court Updates and Extends Eviction Diversion Program

Today the Supreme Court issued the Thirty-Seventh Emergency Order that amends and extends the Texas Eviction Diversion Program. The new order extends the program until at least July 27, unless extended by the Chief Justice. The order also makes a few key changes to the program as follows:

  • Clarifies that a judge in a county court hearing an eviction case de novo on appeal must discuss the eviction diversion program with the parties; inquire about their interest in participating; and follow the requirements of the order if the parties are interested in participating, including order the justice court to make the eviction files confidential;
  • Permits the judge to extend the abatement order in 60 day increments upon the request of the plaintiff;
  • In cases where the landlord/tenant do not indicate at the trial that they wish to participate in the eviction diversion program but later indicate that they do wish to participate in the program, requires the judge to set aside any judgment, make the records confidential, and sign a written order stating the procedures that apply for reinstating the judgment or dismissing the eviction action. This provision does not apply if the writ of possession has issued.

So far, the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs has distributed almost $19 million to almost 2,200 households through the Eviction Diversion Program with another $8.2 million in payments to 989 households in progress. You can find out more about the rent relief funding or refer landlords or tenants to texasrentrelief.com. An up-to-date website with data on amounts and households funded (by county or zip code) can be found here.

Supreme Court’s Thirty-Fourth Emergency Order Expires

On March 31, the Supreme Court’s Thirty-Fourth Emergency Order expired.  Since then, the Office of Court Administration has received a number of questions about what the order’s expiration means for the CDC’s moratorium and Texas eviction actions. 

As you may know, the CDC’s moratorium is being challenged in several federal courts.  Some of those challenges have been successful, while others have not.  Texas courts should familiarize themselves with the relevant opinions, which include:

The CDC’s moratorium has not been challenged in the Supreme Court of Texas, and the order’s expiration is not a statement by the Supreme Court on the validity of the CDC’s moratorium.  Its expiration simply means that the statewide procedures that were in the order are no longer required, and its expiration allows Texas courts to develop their own procedures—like the pleading, citation, abatement, and challenge procedures that were in the order—for implementing the CDC’s moratorium should they decide the CDC’s moratorium applies.  The Supreme Court’s Thirty-Sixth Emergency Order remains in effect.

As a best practice, Texas courts should be clear about any changes or suspensions of rules in their court and make such changes or suspensions in writing and available to the affected parties.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact coronavirus@txcourts.gov