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Cleveland Legal Aid’s recommendations to the Ohio Supreme Court

Posted March 17, 2020
5:46 pm

During this pandemic, The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland continues serving clients remotely, via online applications, telephone calls, and video conferencing.  We have quickly and dramatically changed our operations in order to protect the health and welfare of our clients, our colleagues and our community.

Governor DeWine is leading the country with swift, proactive responses to the coronavirus pandemic in order to “flatten the curve” and curb the health crisis in our state.  The Ohio Supreme Court has the authority to take immediate, decisive action and set an example for state court systems around the United States.  Courts can proactively help our communities respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Ohio Supreme Court should significantly limit court operations for an extended period of time while still preserving rule of law and ensuring access to the system. Litigants should not have to choose between protecting their health or accessing justice.

The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland recommends The Ohio Supreme Court:

  • Order all courts to postpone non-essential court appearances immediately, or hold them by phone or video conference, at the discretion of the judge or magistrate.
  • Define “essential proceedings” as those proceedings in which constitutional rights are in jeopardy, injunctive relieve is necessary to protect a litigant’s health, safety or housing; or to prevent other imminent, serious harm that cannot be remedied if allowed to occur.
  • Suspend the Rules of Superintendence regarding case completion timeframes.
  • Require each county court to create and publish procedures to allow victims of violence to access the court.
  • Order stay of execution of any foreclosure judgments.
  • Order a moratorium on filing evictions, pending eviction proceedings, and scheduled moveouts.
  • Order a moratorium on filing and enforcing garnishment orders.
  • Prohibit courts from issuing a capias if defendants fail to appear for traffic violations, minor misdemeanor and non-violent misdemeanor offenses (in the event these are not postponed as non-essential proceedings).
  • Extend all existing case deadlines automatically by 30 days, including statutorily set deadlines (e.g in cases of Civil Protection Order full hearings). Allow litigants to file emergency motions articulating why the deadline or hearing must be maintained as an “essential proceedings,” pursuant to the definition articulated by the Ohio Supreme Court.
  • Toll all statute of limitations for 60 days immediately, with potential to extend tolling period in subsequent order.
  • Recommend rescheduling all out of court, in-person matters, including but not limited to depositions, mediations, arbitrations, and other legal events, or proceeding only by phone or video conference.
  • Urge courts to use all available discretion to release people in jail regardless of immigration status.
  • Urge courts to explain new operations in plain language on websites instead of simply posting court orders. Ensure such information is also available in a variety of languages for Ohio citizens with limited English proficiency.

Again, The Ohio Supreme Court has the opportunity to set an example for state court systems around the country about how the courts can proactively help our communities respond to the coronavirus pandemic. The court should issue an order that encompasses these recommendations and any others that promote social distancing and prevent people from congregating in public spaces (i.e. court houses) by necessity.

These actions are especially imperative to the low income and vulnerable clients served by Legal Aid, and to the unrepresented litigants who have no counsel to guide them during this pandemic.

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