Cameron County District Clerk Elvira S. Ortiz announced on Monday that all jury panels will be cancelled for March in response to the coronavirus. The clerk’s office also stated that it will not be accepting passport applications until further notice.
The decision is the latest update in a series of closures intended as precautionary measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus among country residents.
“This action is being taken pursuant to the recommendation made by the Office of Court Administration due to the coronavirus pandemic as President has declared a national emergency,” the District Clerk wrote.
Ortiz confirmed on Monday that she hadn’t received any instructions from County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr. or any District Judges regarding court closures.
Ortiz said in notices issued to all jurors summoned for March 23, 2020 that “The Cameron County District Judges have ordered to cancel all jury panels for the month of March until further notice. You do not have to appear. Thank you for your understanding and your service to Cameron County,” Ortiz wrote.
“We will notify you as to when you might have to report to the Central Jury Room again. Please keep yourself aware of the updates issued by Cameron County by watching the news and reports from the County Judge and adhere to the instructions suggested by our county, state, and national health officials. Please call us if you have any questions,” she said.
A separate statement on passport applications explained that the office will not be accepting applications through March and until further notice.
The website for the Texas Supreme Court lists a number of court closures across the state, the nearest being Master Court No. 2 in Hidalgo County, which was closed on Friday “until further notice”. Each notice lists the reason for court closure as “pandemic”.
The page links to a copy of an emergency order issued by the Supreme Court of Texas/Court of Criminal Appeals, signed by 17 judges and justices, regarding the COVID-19 State of Disaster issued by Gov. Greg Abbott in all 254 counties in Texas.
The document granted all courts in Texas the ability to modify or suspend any and all deadlines and procedures “ending no later than 30 days after the Governor’s state of disaster has been lifted.”
Anyone requiring or involved in a hearing, deposition, or other proceeding of any kind, should be allowed to participate remotely by means such as teleconferencing or video conferencing, according to the order.
Additionally, the order granted courts the ability to hold proceedings away from the court’s usual location so long as “reasonable notice and access” to the participants and to the public is provided.
All participants are required to alert the court if he or she has or knows of another participant who has coronavirus or flu-like symptoms, including a fever, cough, or sneezing.
The order expires on May 8, 2020 unless extended by Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht.