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STATUS OF PHILADELPHIA COURT SYSTEM IN RESPONSE TO COVID-19 PANDEMIC

STATUS OF PHILADELPHIA COURT SYSTEM IN RESPONSE TO COVID-19 PANDEMIC
By, Steven Cherry

PHILADELPHIA, PA , September 08, 2020 —  For those of you who may be interested in how the Philadelphia Court System has been responding to the Covid-19 Pandemic, here is the current status of civil operations as of September 2020:

On March 16, 2020, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared a Statewide Judicial Emergency due to the Covid-19 Pandemic suspending all but certain limited emergency necessary functions for all courts of all levels  throughout the Commonwealth.    This declaration was extended several times; however, by  Supreme Court Order of May 27, 2020, the Statewide Judicial Emergency was declared ceased effective June 1, 2020, and the individual Courts of each Pennsylvania County were empowered to thereafter  issue further administrative Orders limiting functions, activities, operations of their Courthouses and protocols for further operations, consistent with CDC and other organizational guidelines for public safety, and Governor Wolf’s tri-color based system of phases of business operations (Red/Yellow/Green).

In the intervening  time since, the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas (The First Judicial District) has been one of the less aggressive Pennsylvania venues in terms of speed in resuming operations, perhaps reflecting that the City of Philadelphia has been slow in transitioning from the “Red” to “Yellow” to “Green” phases.   Although the Court’s electronic filing and docket system has technically remained operational  and available ever since the Judicial Emergency was declared, the physical “Courthouse” of City Hall and Municipal Court did not open for public entry until July 1.  Physical appearances by counsel / parties in courtrooms  and in-person court hearings / conferences  remain suspended.

Civil jury trials have been formally ruled as suspended through January 4 ,2021, and the Court has not indicated when civil jury trials or their scheduling / listing are expected resume.  The Court has recently indicated that that subsequent to September 6, 2020, the Court will be scheduling non-jury trials for matters in the Arbitration Appeal, Major Non-Jury and Equity programs.  These non-jury trials will be conducted by way of remote technology (e.g. Zoom).

It has been suggested by the Court that Civil Arbitration Hearings for cases in the Compulsory Arbitration may resume shortly, via remote technology.  However, formally, Civil Arbitration hearings remain suspended, to date.  Arbitrations that were scheduled to take place in the Summer of 2020 were assigned to have a mandatory settlement conference take place, via remote technology, and if the matter did not settle following such conferences, the arbitration hearing would be rescheduled to take place far enough ahead in 2021 that Arbitration Hearings are expect to occur again.

Various other hearings and conferences, including conferences regarding disputed Discovery Motions are occurring, but are being conducted via remote technology means.

Accordingly, at this point, the Philadelphia Court is striving for an almost “business as usual” approach, with most hearings, conferences and other appearances taking place via remote technology, with the large exceptions of jury trials and Arbitration Hearings still not occurring, and there has been no guidance from the Court as to when such proceedings are expected to resume.

The attorneys at Mintzer Sarowitz Zeris Leva and Meyers, LLP are continuously monitoring this ongoing fluid situation, and will continue to keep you updated of all changes as they are announced.