Kansas courts have been slowed or closed during the Covid pandemic, a familiar sight we’ve all grown accustomed to over the past few months. Jury trials, hearings, and other in-person activities in most lawsuits have been put on hold since March, but Kansas Courts are beginning to reopen. While we continued to fight for our clients and move cases forward by holding remote hearings, we are excited to step foot back in courthouses across the state.
Earlier this week, the Chief Judge for the Ford County Kansas District Court held a remote Zoom meeting with over 30 lawyers in the Dodge City area to discuss the first wave of courthouse restrictions as courts begin to reopen in Kansas. The new rules are temporary and will likely last through the middle of June, but there is no specific date that the rules will expire. Based on guidance from the Kansas Supreme Court, there are 3 rules for anyone planning to walk into a Kansas courthouse while temporary rules are in place.
First, face masks are mandatory for anyone who enters a courtroom. The mask requirement applies to everyone in the room, not just the people involved in a hearing or trial. I visited the Ford County courthouse on May 20th and had no trouble accessing the building or speaking with others while wearing the face mask—a small price to pay to return to Kansas courts!
Second, both civil and criminal cases will move forward on a limited basis until the first set of temporary rules expire. In other words, lawsuits and legal disputes will advance through the Courts, but there may be delays to setting in-person hearings and holding trials as Courts work through earlier cases that were put on hold during the pandemic.
Third, criminal cases and related jury trials will take priority over civil cases during the reopening period. The Kansas Supreme Court has given Courts 150 days to put delayed criminal cases back on the docket and hold hearings and trials on those matters. In Ford County, 19 criminal cases had jury trials set to begin during the pandemic lockdown, and those cases are at the top of the Court’s priority list. Criminal cases must take priority because of the constitutional right to a speedy trial, so civil lawsuits may face delays while the pile of pending criminal cases is resolved. While civil cases may face delays, our firm has been able to set matters for remote hearings to avoid conflicts with criminal dockets, so we do not see the reopening rules posing a significant challenge.
Flexibility will be required to navigate dockets in the overloaded Kansas courts to advance our clients’ rights while understanding the burden facing many Kansas Courts during this temporary reopening period. We love going to Court and we are anxious to once again step foot in courthouses throughout the great state of Kansas!