The Supreme Court of South Carolina
DONALD W. BEATTY
POST OFFICE BOX 3543
||Chief Justice Beatty
Court Operations during the Seven-Week Period June 15 – July 31, 2020
June 3, 2020
I would like to thank judges, clerks of court, and court staff for their diligence and their efforts to ensure that the South Carolina Judicial Branch remains open for business. The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic has required changes to ordinary court operations and you have readily adapted to these difficult circumstances. Since the beginning of this pandemic, Circuit and Family Court judges have held nearly 2,000 hearings via WebEx. Numerous other hearings have additionally been held in person, via Zoom, teleconference, and other platforms.
As we continue to prepare for the anticipated resumption of normal court activity, the Chief Judge for Administrative Purposes in each circuit for Common Pleas, General Sessions and Family Court should continue to work with the Clerks of Court to create a comprehensive plan to schedule and dispose of all status conferences, pre-trial hearings, and pre-trial motions during this time. Additionally, judges may continue to hear any non-jury matter currently pending. All local administrative orders must be approved by the Chief Justice and filed with Court Administration prior to implementation. Every judge not previously scheduled for vacation or official leave should operate on a normal schedule.
All status conferences, pre-trial matters and scheduled hearings may be conducted using remote communication technology to avoid the need for a physical appearance of all or some of the parties, counsel or witnesses. Video conferencing should be the primary means of holding hearings. In-person hearings should occur only when remote hearings are not feasible. I encourage you to use WebEx, the conferencing platform supported by the Judicial Branch. Videoconferencing should be hosted by the judge and not by a party to the case. In cases where members of the press request to observe a remote hearing that ordinarily would be open to the public, an invitation to the videoconference should be provided to them. If an in-person hearing is conducted, only attorneys, the parties, necessary witnesses, and a limited number of members of the press will be allowed to appear. Hearings must be adequately staggered to minimize the number of people appearing at the same time.
Judges will continue handling as much of the regular dockets within their circuit as is practical. In doing so, judges shall adhere to the guidance set forth in the April 22, 2020 order of the Supreme Court regarding Operation of the Trial Courts During the Coronavirus Emergency.
Please take note of the following:
- Clerks of Court, in consultation with the Chief Judges for Administrative Purposes, shall prepare dockets for the ensuing seven terms of court. Dockets are required for Common Pleas, General Sessions, and Family Court. The Clerk of Court will provide Court Administration with each week's schedule as soon as it is available. The first week's schedule should be provided to Tiffany Raines at Court Administration by 5:00 pm on June 10, 2020 for the week of June 15, 2020, and by 5:00 pm each Wednesday thereafter for the following week. The schedule should include the name of the judges holding court each day and should include the county in which each judge will be presiding as well as whether the hearings held each day will be remote, in person or both.
- Status conferences shall be held in all cases on the trial docket, criminal and civil, and pre-trial motions should be disposed of.
- During the seven weeks set forth above, judges will not travel unless necessary, but will handle cases in the circuits where they reside. Any travel out of circuit must be approved by Court Administration. However, chief judges for administrative purposes may handle cases within the circuit for which they are assigned as administrative judge. Matters will be assigned at the direction of the Chief Judge for Administrative Purposes.
- Notwithstanding any prior guidance, continuances on pre-trial matters are discouraged during this seven-week period and should be granted only in exceptional circumstances with good cause shown.
- Chief administrative judges should work with the Attorney General's office to schedule PCR hearings as may be feasible considering the schedule of the local judges.
- Any nonjury matter may be heard in person if it can be conducted in a reasonably safe manner. Reasonably safe manner assumes adherence to CDC social distancing recommendations, wearing of personal protective equipment when appropriate, availability of adequate sanitizing supplies, and staggering of hearings. Multiple in-person hearings or appearances shall not be scheduled to take place at the same time.
Clerks of Court should make publicly available on their websites, if available, a regular docket or roster of all matters scheduled to be heard and the chief judges should assist them in doing so. If the courthouse is closed to the public, the docket or roster should additionally be posted on the courthouse door. Information posted about the docket or roster should include contact information for members of the public seeking to view the hearing.
Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns.