Update on Pennsylvania Court Closures and Attorney Office Closures

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court released a new order today, April 28, 2020. Here is my very brief summary.

Part X of this order addresses lawyers and our ability to go to our offices. This remains extremely limited. An updated order from the Governor, which I have uploaded here, provides more detail:

“[A]lthough law offices remain generally closed and lawyers and staff should continue to perform all work remotely to the extent possible, lawyers and staff may access physical offices on a limited basis as necessary to render legal services that cannot practically be completed through the use of advanced communication technology, and which are being rendered to comply with a court directive or deadline, or to meet client needs that are critical to the client’s health or safety, including, but not limited to, matters of healthcare, incompetence, incapacitation, end-of-life decision making, government benefits necessary to sustain life and access healthcare and income, or legal functions necessary for the operation of government at all levels. Any in-person activity shall be subject to the Orders of Secretary of Health providing for building safety measures (issued April 5, 2020) and business safety measures (issued April 15, 2020), including any amendments, and related Department of Health guidance.”

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Closure Orders

The emergency order is extended through June 1

  • As of May 4, Courts may open to a greater extent than before but “in-person access and proceedings shall be strictly limited”
    • Local emergency orders may overrule the above to prevent courts from opening further.
    • Courts are required to implement and maintain procedures to protect the safety of judges, court staff, court users, and others. This includes restricting court facilities so social distancing can be maintained
    • It encourages courts to allow the parties’ physical presence to be excused when hearings and conferences can be held in the presence of counsel only.
    • Courts are encouraged to continue using technology to avoid in-person meetings, as long as constitutional requirements can be satisfied.
      • State or local rules that interfere with the use of such technologies are suspended through June 1.
  • Review the order for deadlines.
  • IV the order lists various priorities for the different Courts.
  • Technology may be used to provide access to things the public has the right to see. i.e. streaming video.
  • Jury trials remain suspended through June 1.
  • VII addresses payments
  • IX addresses Children’s Fast Track Appeals
  • X provides guidance to legal professionals. We are to inform our clients that the public health emergency cannot be used for strategic advantage and to follow the ethics rules in such regards.
    • See the Governor’s order at the start of this post for more detail on the ability of lawyers to open their offices.
    • We are to continue to use technology to the greatest extent possible
    • When we access our offices as is appropriate under the order, we are to comply with orders concerning building and worker safety.
  • XI deals with Dispossession of property. This includes not allowing evictions, ejections, or displacement based on the failure to make a monetary payment. This is extended through May 11, 2020.
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