Updates in red

Due to the global pandemic of COVID-19, a public health emergency has been declared in the United States.  Experts say that one of the most effective ways to protect against this disease is to limit the risk of exposure.  This has prompted the “Stay at Home” movement for many Americans, but many judicial matters still need prompt attention during this time.  Varying regulations have been put into place for the different courts throughout Nebraska and Iowa that attempt to balance the global health threat with the need for continued access to the judicial system.  Will your case or matter be affected by these emergency response plans by the courts?

NEBRASKA STATE COURTS

  • On May 21, 2021, the Chief Justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court issued an order almost identical to that in May 2020 mandating that no court shall close unless an order declaring a nonjudicial day is issued. Each court shall continue its own emergency preparedness plan, but it is further encouraged that each court consult with each other to move toward normal court operations in compliance with CDC, state, and local guidance. This order supersedes the March 13, April 6, June 30, and November 6, 2020 orders.
    • Any party to a case shall continue to notify opposing counsel and the court if they reasonably suspect a participant in a judicial proceeding falls under a category for elevated risk of COVID-19.
      • People with an elevated risk of COVID-19 include those who have tested positive for COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone who has COVID-19, those who have been asked to isolate or self-quarantine by any health care provider or official, or those exhibiting symptoms of an infectious respiratory illness with symptoms as identified by the CDC guidelines for COVID-19.
    • Self-represented litigants need no longer file documents with the courts by email as set out in the April 23, 2020 order.
  • On December 16, 2020, the Chief Justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court issued an order waiving the requirements for in-person continuing legal education for 2021, which allows attorneys to obtain all required CLE in a computer and remote manner.
  • An executive order in April 2020 implementing the Online Notary Public Act early, and the Act went into effect by its own right on July 1, 2020.  Online notarial acts that an online notary public can perform are acknowledgements, jurats, verifications or proofs and oaths or affirmations. Neb. Rev. Stat. § 64-408.  The document signer does not need to be located in Nebraska when signing in front of a Nebraska online notary public.  Neb. Rev. Stat. § 64-411.
  • The Chief Justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court has ordered that no court shall close unless an order declaring a nonjudicial day has been issued.  However, each court shall continue its own emergency preparedness plan.
    • Additionally, any party to a case shall notify opposing counsel and the court if they reasonably suspect a participant in a judicial proceeding falls under a category for elevated risk of COVID-19.
      • People with an elevated risk of COVID-19 include those who have symptoms of COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone who has COVID-19, those who have traveled to a Level 3 country in the last 14 days, and those who have been asked to quarantine by any public official or healthcare provider.
  • On November 10, the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court released an order in accordance with the above mentioned Nebraska Supreme Court’s Administrative Order.
    • This order provides Workers’ Compensation legal proceedings outside of Douglas or Lancaster Counties shall take place in a courtroom large enough to practice social distancing.  If a courtroom is unavailable, the venue may be transferred or the proceedings may be conducted via video conference.
    • In addition, two days prior to a live legal proceeding, attorneys shall notify the judicial assistant of the judge of the expected number of witnesses and spectators.
    • As of December 28, 2020, this order is to remain in effect until otherwise ordered.

[Please note that if the Nebraska court you are seeking information about is not a county included in this summary, please visit

https://supremecourt.nebraska.gov/nebraska-judicial-branch-emergency-status-information/orders

for applicable judicial orders.]

  • In the Fourth Judicial District (Douglas County):
  • The County Court of Douglas County:
  • On August 30, 2021, the court issued an amended COVID-19 response plan. All amendments largely pertain to custody prisoners.
  • On August 27th, 2021, in accordance with the United States Supreme Court Opinion on August 27th, 2021, vacated the eviction moratorium previously renewed on August 5th.
  • In response to the August 9th, 2021 Supreme Court Order, the Douglas County Court issued a COVID-19 transmission reduction plan:
    • Masks are required to be worn at all times in the courthouse, unless specific permission of the Court is given
    • Reasonable efforts will be made to promote social distancing in the court rooms
    • Only essential personnel will be allowed in the courtrooms, and no spectators shall be allowed
    • Specific procedures for transport of prisoners and criminal proceedings are outlined by the order
  • On August 5th, 2021, the Douglas County Court extended the eviction moratorium until October 3, 2021.
  • To date, multiple districts have issued plans for the prevention of COVID-19 in accordance with this order. It is advised to check your local district’s Order on these practices.
  • Effective July 6, 2021:
    • Masks are no longer required in the courtrooms;
    • Masks are voluntary for fully vaccinated individuals, but strongly recommended for unvaccinated individuals. Individuals who are not vaccinated are still required to adhere to social distancing guidelines;
    • Masks may be worn upon preference;
    • Those experiencing COVID-19 symptoms may not enter the courtroom;
    • Physical distancing is no longer required, but may be accommodated upon request;
    • Judges may still limit the number of individuals in the courtroom at their discretion;
    • No party may approach the bench without permission;
    • Jury selection will proceed with as before COVID-19; and
    • WebEx and telephonic hearings are still available upon request.
  • Pursuant to a May 24, 2021 order effective May 26, 2021:
    • Courts will continue to attempt to hold capacity at 75% of occupancy guidelines, at the discretion of the judge.
    • All persons must wear a face covering into the courtroom and for the duration of the proceeding unless waived by the presiding judge.
    • Criminal jury selections and jury trials will proceed as scheduled.
    • Civil jury trials will begin July 1, 2021.
      • Exhibits shall no longer be e-filed and will be submitted as part of the in-person hearing.
    • Estate, Guardianship, and Conservatorship will continue in-person as scheduled. WebEx and telephonic hearings are available with approval of the judge.
    • The order will remain into effect indefinitely until further order of the Court.
  • Pursuant to an April 12, 2021 order:
    • Each court will attempt to hold capacity 75% of occupancy guidelines, at the discretion of the judge. Access is still limited to parties and their counsel, witnesses, staff, and credentialed media. Other parties must obtain permission from the judge to enter.
    • Criminal jury selection and jury trials scheduled to begin April 1, 2021, will no longer be continued and parties should plan to proceed to trial as scheduled. Various modified pre-trial hearings and procedures may still be in place.
    • Civil jury trials will begin no sooner than September 1, 2021 but this may be modified based on criminal jury trial progression.
      • Each judge will monitor his or her own civil docket for motions.
      • Bench trials will resume in-person.
      • Exhibits shall no longer be e-filed or e-mailed and will be submitted as part of the in-person hearing.
    • All Estate, Guardianship, and Conservatorship Hearings shall return to in-person hearings as of April 1, 2021. However, WebEx and telephonic hearings are still an appearance option with the approval of the judge.
    • This order will remain in effect until September 1, 2021.
  • Criminal and traffic jury and bench trials and pretrial hearings are suspended until after March 1, 2021.  Cases currently scheduled for trial in January and February of 2021 will be continued by written order for good cause.
  • Civil jury and bench trials are suspended until after March 1, 2021.  Cases currently scheduled for trial in January and February of 2021 will be continued to a future date by written order.  Civil motions and pretrial hearings are likewise suspended.
  • Small claims trials are suspended until after March 1, 2021.
  • Restitution and garnishment hearings will be conducted in person, on the record, at dates and times set by the court.
  • Harassment and protection order hearings will occur in person, on the record, attended only by essential persons, at dates and times set by the court.
  • Ex parte and contested probate hearings are suspended until after March 1, 2021.
  • Adoption hearings will occur in person, attended only by essential persons, on the date and times set by the court.
  • Expedited or emergency probate hearings may be heard via WebEx or other video conferencing if requested and by agreement of parties with prior permission of the court.
  • The District Court of Douglas County:
  • As of July 6, 2021, the District Court will resume traditional scheduling of civil and criminal jury trials.
    • Jury selection for civil trials and specific criminal trials will resume in courtrooms.
  • On April 16, 2021, the Douglas County District Court continued civil cases previously scheduled for jury trial.  The District Court will only reinstate the June 2021 Jury Panel for criminal cases. Voir Dire for criminal cases will take place two different locations:
    • Douglas County Legislative Chambers located at 1819 Farnam Street, LC4, Omaha, Nebraska.  For a schedule of criminal jury selection commencing use the following link:
    • Douglas County Annex Building located at 1805 Harney Street, Omaha, Nebraska.  For a schedule of criminal jury selection use the following links:
  • Commencing January 4, 2021 through February 28, 2021, the Douglas County District Court will implement the following protocols:

The Hall of Justice will have restricted public access.  All persons in a courtroom (limit 10) will be socially distanced by six feet and wear a mask.

    • Criminal pre-trial hearings will take place by audiovisual device.
    • Domestic cases that involve child custody disputes will take place as scheduled in person or by an audiovisual platform.
    • Domestic cases involving asset or property disputes will be conducted by an audiovisual platform.
    • All civil bench trials that have already been scheduled for trial may take place as scheduled in person or by an audiovisual platform at the discretion of the court.  No new civil bench trials will be scheduled during this period.
    • All summary judgment motions will occur via audiovisual device.  Courts are strongly encouraged to continue complex motions involving voluminous exhibits to March 2021.
  • Jury Panels for criminal and civil jury trials will be reinstated for January 2021, February 2021, March 2021, April 2021, May 2021, and June 2021.
  • The Fourth Judicial District will reinstate the January 2021 Jury Panels for criminal and civil jury trials only subject to authorization at a later date.  [These orders are limited to scheduled proceedings listed at https://supremecourt.nebraska.gov/sites/default/files/Administration/emergency/DC4-order-criminal-jury-trials.pdf and https://supremecourt.nebraska.gov/sites/default/files/Administration/emergency/DC-4-civil-jury-trials.pdf.]
  • In the Third Judicial District (Lancaster County):
  • The District Court of Lancaster County:
  • People entering the Hall of Justice will have their temperatures taken and questions asked regarding possible exposure to and symptoms of COVID-19.
  • The use of face coverings or masks is required when seeking entry to or occupying the District Court courtrooms.
  • Additionally, social distancing measures must be observed (six feet away from any person not an immediate household member).
      • The District Court of Lancaster County is limiting simultaneous physical presence in the courtroom to no more than ten persons, consisting of judiciary and staff, lawyers and parties, and witnesses called into courtrooms only as needed.
      • Exhibits to be offered at a hearing/trial must be emailed to the court reporter at least 24 hours in advance; they will be pre-printed and marked by the court reporter prior to the hearing.
      • If multiple hearings are set at or near the same time, only one set of counsel/litigants shall enter the courtroom at a time.
      • As of November 23, 2020, civil trials will be continued on or after January 4, 2021 and criminal trials will be determined on a case-by-case basis. 
    • All criminal pre-trial hearings, evidentiary hearings on Motions to Suppress, and sentencing hearings will take place via video conferencing.
    • Any new civil bench trials shall be scheduled on or after January 4, 2021, unless parties agree to video conferencing.  All hearings on civil pre-trial motions will be conducted via video conferencing with evidence submitted in advance of the hearing.
    • To request an in-person hearing, a party shall file a motion and contact the court’s bailiff to set the motion for hearing. 
  • The County Court of Lancaster County:
    • The Mask Order from June 23, 2020 and Courtroom Plan from November 12, 2020 is vacated and discontinued with the expiration of the city’s mask mandate. Face coverings are no longer required in the courtroom. However, individuals experiencing COVID-19 symptoms shall not enter the courtroom and the number of individuals in the courtroom may be limited at the discretion of the judge. Telephonic and videoconferencing is still available.
  • The use of masks or other suitable face coverings are required to enter courtrooms.
  • Social distancing of six feet shall be practiced, and each courtroom has delineated with colored tape the designated spaces to sit and stand.
  • Only the judge, court staff, litigants, and parents/guardians (in the case of a minor or incompetent litigant) are allowed in the courtrooms.
  • As of November 12, 2020, all criminal and traffic trials and hearings for Motion to Suppress are suspended until on or after January 4, 2021.  Preliminary hearings may be conducted via Zoom or in person. 
  • Civil jury trials, jury pre-trial conferences, and Small Claims trials are also suspended until on or after January 4, 2021.
  • In the Second Judicial District (Sarpy and Cass Counties):
    • The District Courts of the Second Judicial District have suspended jury service.  The most recent order states that any juror summoned for grand or petit juries for the Second Judicial District is excused from service for the month of January 2021.  However, this order applies only to the District Courts for the Second Judicial District.  Therefore, jurors are not excused from service in the County Court.
    • The Office of the District Court is open to the public by appointment only.
    • The Juvenile Court of Sarpy County have continued all matters currently pending to a future date to be determined by the Court.

IOWA STATE COURTS

  • On December 6, 2021 the Iowa Supreme Court  issued an order pertaining to on-going pandemic-related efforts in the courthouse and new policies and procedures.
    • Civil proceedings are presumed in-person, however, some proceedings may be held via videoconference or telephone at the request of the parties. District courts may accept testimony by videoconference or telephone with the parties’ consent or when otherwise authorized by law.
    • Trials are presumed to be held in person, but the court may permit jury or nonjury trials or otherwise take testimony by video conference.
    • Facemasks are required to be worn in the court-controlled areas statewide.
    • New procedures and rules apply to certain criminal, family, and juvenile law proceedings
    • Appellate arguments may take place via telephone, videoconference, or nonorally
  • On December 8, 2021 the Iowa Supreme Court issued an order amending their December 6, 2021 order. 
  • On August 27, 2021, the Iowa Supreme Court issued an order requiring all persons entering court-controlled areas wear a face covering, regardless of vaccination status.
  • On June 21, 2021, the Iowa Supreme Court extended the sunset date of its November 24, 2020 order regarding courtroom practices and protocols for COVID-19 from June 30, 2021 to January 1, 2022. The purpose of this revision is to allow for an easier transition for retention, modification, or termination of pandemic-related protocols.
  • On June 17, 2021, as a result of vaccine availability and CDC guidance, the Iowa Supreme Court rescinded its orders from July 9, 2021 (prioritization of cases), July 22, 2020 (pertaining to jury trials), and July 29, 2020 (regarding appellate oral arguments). Judges may still use discretion with physical distancing for participants who request it because they are not fully vaccinated.
  • On May 24, 2021, the Iowa Supreme Court recognized COVID-19 as an “unusual circumstance” and all cases subject to dismissal under rule 1.944(2) if not tried before January 1, 2022 are provided a one time, one-year automatic extension of the deadline for commencement of the trial through December 31, 2022.
    • Rule 1.944(2) notices will resume being issued in cases that have been pending over one year as of July 15, 2022.
  • On May 14, 2021, the Iowa Supreme Court issued new guidance on face coverings in court-controlled areas:
    • Fully vaccinated people, as defined by the CDC, need no longer wear a face covering in court-controlled areas.
    • Unvaccinated people are still expected to comply with face covering guidance as outlined in the court’s November 24, 2020 order.
  • On April 28, 2021, the Iowa Supreme Court created the “Lessons Learned Task Force” to make recommendations to the Supreme Court on rules, policies, or practices that should be retained, modified, or stopped.  The Court appointed Justices, Judges, attorneys, clerks, and court personnel to the Task Force.
  • On March, 11, 2021, the Iowa Supreme Court extended a supervisory order to remain in effect through the expiration date of the CDC Evictions Order, March 31, 2021.  If the CDC Order is extended, the court’s order will likewise be extended in accordance.  This order places a moratorium on certain residential evictions.
  • Custody trials may be held by video conference by consent of the parties.  On motion by a party and for good cause, the court, in its discretion, may allow a custody trial or hearing by video conference over the objection of the other party after an opportunity to be heard.
  • The Iowa Supreme Court temporarily modified Iowa Court Rule 31.3(1)(a) to allow the February 2021 Iowa Bar Exam to be administered remotely.  Applicants who have registered for the February Bar Exam may withdraw their applications and defer fees to the July Bar Exam or receive a refund. 
  • Trial courts have discretion to conduct nonjury trails by video conference or telephone with the parties’ consent.  In-person hearings and trials must be scheduled to comply with safety protocols. 
  • Courts shall require everyone entering court-controlled areas to wear masks.  Face shields are no longer considered an appropriate substitute.  However, face shields will be provided to persons speaking during evidentiary hearings and trials, including the judge, attorneys, and witnesses for in-person proceedings.
  • The appellate courts have resumed in-person oral arguments.  However, the courts are also allowed to conduct oral arguments through videoconference or telephone through June 30, 2021. 
  • All jury trials that have not commenced as of November 16, 2020 and that are scheduled to begin before February 1, 2021, shall be continued to a date no earlier than February 1, 2021. 
  • All grand jury proceedings shall be suspended until February 1, 2021.   
  • District courts shall continue to conduct in-person business for criminal matters that cannot be continued or conducted by videoconference or telephone and emergency matters that cannot be conducted by videoconference or telephone.
  • To the extent any limitations period for bringing a foreclosure action or executing on a foreclosure judgment would have run during a federal moratorium expiring August 31, that limitations period shall be extended for a period of 76 days from August 31, i.e., through November 15.
  • All cases currently subject to dismissal under rule 1.944(2) if not tried before January 1, 2021 are provided a onetime, one-year automatic extension of the deadline for commencement of trial through December 31, 2021.
  • The statute of limitations or similar deadline for commencing an action in district court is tolled by 76 days, from March 17 to June 1. (Tolling means you add that amount of time to the statute of limitations, so the statute of limitations will run 76 days later).
  • The Court will temporarily allow a person to sign a civil court document electronically with “/s/” followed by the person’s typed full name, or with “/person’s name/.”  Attorneys are permitted through June 30, 2021 to sign civil court documents for their clients with “/s/” if the attorney has received oral verification from the client that (a) the client desires to sign the document, (b) the client authorizes the attorney to sign on the client’s behalf, and (c) the client understands that the signature will bind the client as if the client personally signed the document.  Such a signature binds the client as if the client signed the document personally.

FEDERAL COURTS

  • On August 3, 2021 and effective August 4, the US District Court for the District of Nebraska issued new guidance on face coverings in the courthouse:
    • All persons must wear a face covering, regardless of vaccination status, when community transmission is substantial or high based on CDC COVID Data Tracking;
    • All unvaccinated individuals must wear a face covering regardless of the transmission levels;
    • Fully vaccinated individuals who have a known or suspected exposure to COVID must wear a face covering until receiving a negative test 3-5 days after exposure;
    • Unvaccinated individuals must quarantine in accordance with CDC guidance after close contact with someone with COVID;
    • Judges have discretion to direct use or removal of face coverings during proceedings;
    • Court signage will be posted when face coverings are required; and
    • Accommodations may be made for those who cannot wear masks.

The order further defined the term “fully vaccinated” and rescinds the May 27, 2021 order of the Court.

  • On June 21, 2021, the US District Court for the District of Nebraska extended availability of remote proceedings, either by video or phone, through September 19, 2021. The court indicated this remote provision was extended due to public health risks associated with transportation of federal prisoners for purposes of felony pleas and sentencing.
  • On May 27, 2021, the US District Court for the District of Nebraska issued new guidance on the use of face coverings in the federal courthouse:
    • Fully vaccinated persons, as defined by CDC guidelines, are no longer required to wear face coverings in the courthouse.
    • Unvaccinated persons are still required to wear face coverings in public spaces of the courthouse.
    • Persons asked to self-quarantine by a health care provider or public official, those diagnosed with COVID-19, or those experiencing COVID-19 symptoms are unable to enter the courthouse.
  • On March 23, 2021, the US District Court for the District of Nebraska extended an order authorizing the court to conduct proceedings by video conference, or telephone conference if video conferencing is not reasonably available.  This order is extended through June 21, 2021.
  • In the US District Court for the District of Nebraska, continuances are extended to include all proceedings set to begin on or before February 15, 2021, and jury trials may commence on Tuesday, February 16, 2021.
  • On January 13, 2021, the US District Court for the District of Nebraska ordered the following policy changes for CM/ECF sealed filings:
    • There is good cause to permit parties to file highly sensitive documents outside the electronic filing system.
    • Highly sensitive documents refers to sensitive or confidential information likely to be of interest to intelligence service of a hostile for government and the use or disclosure would cause significant harm.
    • In order to file a highly sensitive document, a party must file a “Motion for Leave to File a Highly Sensitive Document” electronically and provide a hard copy of the motion and the document to the Clerk’s Office.
  • In the US District Court for the District of Nebraska, face coverings are required and anyone who has an elevated risk of transmitting COVID-19 shall not be allowed to enter the courthouse unless that person is given permission to enter by an official of the agency with which the person has business.
  • All civil and criminal jury trials scheduled to commence on or before January 31, 2021 are continued pending further order of the court.
  • Other in-court hearings shall remain scheduled unless continued on a case-by-case basis.
  • Case progression deadlines in civil cases shall remain set, pending any case-specific adjustments to be made on motion from the parties or on the Court’s own motion.
  • The authority to conduct criminal proceedings by video teleconference or telephone conference is extended through March 23, 2021.
  • The US Bankruptcy Court for the District of Nebraska will continue to hold most court hearings telephonically and limit the number of individuals in the courtroom.
  • The US District Court for the Northern District of Iowa vacated their previous order requiring the use of face coverings in the common areas of the Sioux City and Cedar Rapids courthouses. Those who are not fully vaccinated are strongly encouraged to wear appropriate face masks in the courthouse. Judges and agencies are able enforce their own face covering requirements.
  • The US District Court for the Northern District of Iowa will begin conducting jury trials effective June 1, 2020.  The presiding judge will give due consideration to any party desiring a continuance of a jury trial scheduled on or after June 1, 2020, due to public health concerns.
    • Effective August 3, 2020, all those entering the United States Courthouses in Sioux City and Cedar Rapids must wear an appropriate face covering.
  • The US District Court for the Northern District of Iowa continued the use of video teleconferencing, or telephone conferencing if video teleconferencing is not reasonably available, in several criminal matters on March 15, 2021.  This may only take place with consent of the defendant.
  • The US District Court for the Southern District of Iowa has continued all civil and criminal jury trials scheduled through October 12, 2020.
    • All those entering the United States Courthouses in Council Bluffs, Des Moines, and Davenport must wear an appropriate face covering.
  • The US District Court for the Southern District of Iowa has rescinded its previous order requiring all individuals entering the courthouse to be subject to a temperature scan, unless required by an individual judge.
  • The US District Court for the Southern District of Iowa has been modified. Fully vaccinated individuals need no longer wear a mask or adhere to social distancing. However, unvaccinated individuals are required to wear a mask and physically distance.
  • Oral arguments for the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit will be conducted by videoconference for the sessions to be held on April 12-16, 2021; May 10-14, 2021; and June 14-18, 2021.
  • Effective July 6, 2020, the requirement of paper briefs has been reinstated, and the filing of these paper copies is no longer deferred.

LINKS TO RELEVANT ORDERS

NEBRASKA

IOWA

FEDERAL

  • Southern District of Iowa
  • Northern District of Iowa

If you have questions about the above information, please give Partner Attorney, Jason Grams a call at 402-397-7300.