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COVID-19 Workgroup Releases Video About the Steps Being Taken to Protect the Public at Courthouses

Jeffrey R. Davis

The Supreme Court’s Workgroup on the Continuity of Court Operations and Proceedings During and After COVID-19 has released its first video to help educate the public about the steps courts, clerks, and other stakeholders are taking to promote the health and safety of people visiting courthouses as the justice system returns to more complete operations.

The video, a minute-long public service announcement, emphasizes social distancing measures being implemented in courthouses across the state, the extra care being taken to continuously clean and disinfect courthouses, and the need to wear masks when doing business at the courthouses.

The video is being distributed to the 20 judicial circuits’ public information officers and clerks offices around the state to be posted on circuit websites and used on social media platforms. The video is a part of a broader communications campaign including social media messaging and graphics. The video also refers those who watch it to a newly created Steps2safeCourt.org webpage with further resources and links to local information where additional information about what to expect when visiting a courthouse may be found.

The video was produced by a collaborative group of staff from the trial courts, the Office of the State Courts Administrator, The Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers, and The Florida Bar.

“As with the workgroup itself, the different voices of our partners in the clerks’ offices and at the Bar improve this communications strategy and make it more likely to succeed,” said Judge Lisa T. Munyon, an Orlando circuit judge and chair of the COVID-19 Workgroup. “The public, and all our stakeholders, need to know what we’re doing to address health concerns as we expand operations. It’s critical the message get across, particularly as we prepare to return to jury trials. I think this goes a long way to help.”

Munyon said the network of communicators in the Florida Courts Public Information Officers are a real strength of the state courts.

“We speak with one voice in the judicial branch and with this collaboration we’re making that voice resonate even more,” Munyon said.

The communications subgroup is also establishing guidelines/best practices for the information to be provided to prospective jurors in summonses, on court and clerk websites, via public information campaigns by the courts, clerks, and the Bar on courthouse signage, and in court/clerk telephone recordings regarding the precautionary measures being taken to protect public health and safety.

Polk County Clerk and Comptroller Stacy M. Butterfield, CPA, a member of the COVID-19 Workgroup and president of the Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers, said the clerks work closely with courts on so much, that this joint communications plan makes sense.

“We can amplify our message of preparation and access when we speak together with our partners,” Butterfield said. “Clarity and transparency are going to be essential as we begin the process of calling Floridians to jury service. We think this campaign with the Bar and the courts is a key part of getting our message out effectively.”

While jury trials remain suspended, pilot projects to test innovations in five circuits are set to begin soon. Chief judges may begin jury trials as soon as 30 days after judicial circuits successfully transition to phase 2 of reopening, as described in the most recent updates to orders from Chief Justice Charles Canady about expanded access.

A second animated video focused on instructions for those called to jury service is set to be released in early July. By then, a second round of social media messages and graphics about jury service will be delivered as well.

Spanish- and Creole-language versions of the videos are also being made with the help of staff in the 11th Judicial Circuit.

“We are stronger with one voice,” Butterfield said.

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