Your Courts Up Close (Virtual) was held on March 2nd 2021. More than 50 attendees came together via Zoom to learn about the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit Court System and to hear about all of the updates and new practices at the courts since the COVID-19 pandemic began just one year ago. Judge Isenhower was the host of the evening and welcomed all of the attendees. He provided an overview of the evening’s presentations which included introducing each of the evening’s presenters.
Chief Judge Mirman began the evening by discussing the challenges and successes in the new way of doing business with the courts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our Chief Judge took us through the timeline of initial shutdown on a national basis and through the re-opening in phased procedures at the courts. Time was spent discussing how the decisions are made to make the courts more accessible while also protecting the public at large during a national health emergency. He told us about how he works with hospital and health officials to analyze local conditions, work with other court partners and state agencies, and form committees around the decisions for all stakeholders to have a chance to weigh in. Attendees learned about how interesting and dynamic it was to be in a leadership position during one of the most significant events in history and about how being nimble was the best way to respond when many leadership decisions needed to be made quickly and correctly.
Next in the evening Judge Edmond Alonzo, County Judge for St. Lucie County was introduced and he discussed the county and civil proceedings for county court civil cases and landlord/tenant cases. Judge Alonzo discussed evictions, moratoriums, and programs that have become available to the general public as a result of CARES funding availability (COVID-19 emergency funding at the local level). He discussed the national landscape of COVID-19 and its impacts on creditors and debtors and explained the role that a county court judge manages with regards to the local cases in their assigned county.
Our final presenter of the evening was Judge Cynthia Cox, the Nineteenth Circuit’s Administrative Family Division Judge. Early on in the pandemic she identified that the health emergency would likely extend into a protracted period whereby the courts would need to learn to become more digital. On March 17, 2020, Judge Cox (along with her team of family judges, magistrates, and the hearing officer) were among the first judges in the State of Florida to adopt and incorporate zoom hearings. The family zoom hearings have been readily accessible and successful. Families claim greater efficiency when they can attend and appear virtually from anywhere and without having to take a full day off of work. With so many successes in the family division, many cases will continue to be held virtually even after the threat of the pandemic has passed.
Attendees of the evening’s events came prepared with excellent questions about the judge’s experiences and knowledge. Judge Isenhower thanked all of the attendees and promised to ‘see’ them again and with luck - hopefully next year in-person!