In March, Governor Raimondo signed an executive order closing all non-essential business and directing all individuals to stay-at-home as COVID-19 spread across the country. One critical public service affected by this order was the Rhode Island Unified Court System (‘UCS"). UCS promulgates rules for all the courts in the state. In response to COVID-19, it instituted procedures that allowed for administration of cases while limiting personal contact. Now that Rhode Island is slowly reopening, UCS is updating its pandemic procedures to ease restrictions in keeping with social distancing best practices.
Are the Courts in Rhode Island Open for In-Person Hearing?
In most instances, not yet. In compliance with the governor's order, UCS moved all criminal and civil trials scheduled between March 16, 2020, and August 1, 2020, to a date not earlier than August 1, 2020. However, the courts have been moving forward with the adjudication of certain cases.
UCS has allowed in-person grand jury hearings since May 1, 2020, provided the court has suitable social distancing measures in place. Additionally, trial judges have been able to schedule bench trials remotely throughout the pandemic provided the parties consent. Trial judges have also been able to recommend in-person bench trials as early as June 1, 2020. Finally, UCS lifted the suspension on Landlord-Tenant cases on June 1, 2020. So Rhode Island courts can adjudicate those matters as well.
What are the social distancing procedures for in-person hearings?
During the pendency of the COVID-19 pandemic, every person entering a judicial building must wear a mask and are subject to verbal screenings for COVID-19 exposure. Courts can only admit parties that are necessary to the case and that pass these screenings. If members of the public wish to attend a preceding, they may do so via phone or other means as advised by contacting the clerk's office for that court.
What Are the Procedures For Court Filings?
Parties may file documents with the court using the electronic filing system. If a party cannot use the automated filing system, they may file in person, but the rules vary by court. UCS extended all filing deadlines between March 17, 2020, and May 17, 2020, to May 29, 2020. Parties requesting the extension of a filing deadline after May 17, 2020, must do so by motion.
How do I pay court fines and fees?
Payments of fines and penalties may be made online on in-person during regular business hours. Courts may reinstitute payment deadlines with notice to the parties.
Has COVID-19 Impacted Your Case? We Can Help.
At Inman & Tourgee, we are committed to helping our clients navigate the court system and obtain positive outcomes, especially during this stressful time. To discuss your matter with a member of our team, fill out an online contact form or call (401) 823-9200 today.