St. Louis Record

Friday, April 3, 2020

Attorneys working remotely, believe few issues with disruption short to medium term

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By John Breslin | Mar 26, 2020

Debbie Champion

Attorneys are upbeat that they will be able to carry on with limited issues if the disruptions caused by the coronavirus outbreak do not continue for many months.

The Missouri Supreme Court announced Wednesday that a partial shut down of the court's systems is extended to April 17, with in-person proceedings limited.

But for many, Missouri's electronic filing system is more than adequate to meet many of the issues they expect to deal with in the short term as the outbreak spreads. As of March 25, 356 individuals in the state tested positive for coronavirus, or COVID-19, while eight people have died.

"Fortunately in Missouri electronic filing is perfect to meet most of our needs, and everyone who does litigation knows how to use it and has been using it for years or many months," said Debbie Champion, vice president of the Missouri Organization of Defense Attorneys.

"We will have a bit of a backlog of depositions and trials but I don’t see the problems as insurmountable or even extreme if we can get back to work in May or June," Champion, of  Rynearson Suess Schnurbusch & Champion, told the St. Louis Record.

"Some people are continuing with remote depositions and mediation and we are continuing to negotiate and evaluate cases and to try to resolve them," the attorney said.

"So hopefully we will be doing the things that can be more easily done while we have a little looser schedule and then go back to depositions and court appearances when we are allowed to go back to court."

Champion added, "Many of my clients work from home and have access to their files or the information they need in order to work and everyone I know is continuing to do that.

"I am hopefully that the courts can get it all organized and working orderly when we open back up and I don’t really see any long term complications with what has happened—again assuming we are not out for many months."

But the Missouri Supreme Court has recognized that there are highly time sensitive areas of the law that do need to be dealt with immediately, and often with in-person proceedings.

These relate to protecting the constitutional rights of criminal defendants, jury trials already in progress as of March 16, temporary restraining orders, and time-sensitive oral arguments.

Many issues relating to family and children may also have to be dealt with face to face, including issues relating to abuse, neglect, termination of parental rights, adoption, and emergency child custody orders.

Matters relating directly to the COVID-19 outbreak may also need to be dealt with in-person, the Supreme Court noted, which is also giving circuit courts discretion in relation to other matters.

Presiding Cole County Circuit Court Judge Patricia Joyce said in a statement Wednesday that in-person bond and release for adult defendants are not suspended.

The Supreme Court has suspended many of its, or local, rules requiring the need to administer any oath in-person when it can be done electronically.

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