Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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With COVID Cases Surging in Florida and Its Jails, Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers Calls For a Return to ZOOM

Photo of FL Supreme Court with copy: Will COVID be the un-wanted problem to move Florida's courts a quantum leap forward?
Columbia County Observer Graphic

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – On Tuesday afternoon, Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (FACDL) President Jude Faccidomo called for all courts throughout the state “to return to virtual court for non-essential hearings.”


On Tuesday, Florida led the nation with new COVID cases, 16,038, which was the highest single-day number since January 7. This represented 20% of all new cases nationwide and was the seventh consecutive day Florida reported more than 12,000 new cases.

On June 3, 2021, Governor DeSantis shut down the state COVID dashboard to the public and began reporting COVID stats once a week.

On June 4, 2021, the Florida Supreme’s Chief Judge Charles T. Canady issued Administrative Order AOSC21-17.

The Chief Judge’s order allows the courts to open back up and operate the way they used to be before the days of masks and social distancing. While this order eliminated masks, it encouraged them.

See: Columbia County Courts and Others Getting Back to Normal, ‘Sort Of’

The Florida Department of Health’s last two weekly reports show the number of new Florida cases rising from 23,000 to 45,000, and then on Friday, July 16, to 73,000. The stats for this week are due to be released tomorrow.

Tom Moffses, the Columbia-Hamilton County Department of Health Administrator, told the Observer that Columbia County “pretty much doubled” its COVID cases between the 16th and the 23d, adding that the County has a vaccination rate of 35%.

On July 27, a press release from the Florida Supremes, Court Leadership Reviews Health Conditions, Focuses on Flexibility in Response to Changing Local Circumstances, reviewed Justice Canady's June 4, 2021, Administrative Order.

"The order encourages the continuation of remote court proceedings. Canady directs ‘each chief judge of a judicial circuit should take all necessary steps to support the remote conduct of other trial court proceedings with the use of technology in accordance with this administrative order and other applicable standards and guidance as may be adopted by the Chief Justice or supreme court.’”

Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers Weighs In
"It's about due process and more"

Jude Faccidomo, President, Florida Associattion of Criminal Defense LawyersOn July 27, FACDL President Jude Faccidomo said in a press release, “We are extremely concerned about the uptick in positive coronavirus cases throughout the State. FACDL is concerned that if proactive steps are not taken now, more severe measures will be required in the future and will result in further significant adverse due process implications.”

Mr. Faccidomo told your reporter, “We have a strong position on this. Even before we had this surge, and before that was part of the consideration, our position was there was a lot of value in these remote [ZOOM] hearings (status conferences, motion for change of address, or motions to produce discovery). These are things that can be handled very easily and efficiently remotely, without eating up a lot of judicial resources, which saves time, attorney resources, and money.”

Mr. Faccidomo continued, “It's a mental health issue, too, to a certain degree. You're running around; you're spending hours of your day commuting  and going from one courthouse to another courthouse, standing in line, and appearing in court, when the actual substance and practice of what is being done is five minutes."

Mr. Faccidomo explained the cost of all this 'extra' non-productive time in court-appointed cases.

“You have attorneys that bill the JAC (Judicial Administration Commission). Instead of billing the state for two hours of my time, I could be billing them for .5 hours. There are just so many commonsense reasons for it [ZOOM] to work -- and now there is a safety reason for it,” he said.

Mr. Faccidomo continued, “Corrections doesn't have to transport people from the jails -- it's a safety issue. We are encouraging each respective circuit to embrace these remote appearances.”

Your reporter asked, “Have you folks done any survey, or do you have a sense of who is continuing to do virtual pretrial proceedings?”

Mr. Faccidomo answered, “It's a little scattered throughout the circuits. My first act as president was to create a post-COVID zoom committee. Its first task is to compile, from each of the circuits, what they are doing, what is working, what they think should be implemented. Once we have that compiled into a usable piece of data, then we can try and create some uniformity.”

Third Circuit Court Administrator, Charles Hydovitz

Third Circuit Court Administrator, Charles HydovitzYour reporter spoke with Charles Hydovitz, the Third Circuit Court Administrator, about the June 24 Supreme Court Administrative Order and judges' authority in their courtrooms.

He said, “The administrative order gives each judge the latitude to decide what he or she wants to do in their own courtroom."

Mr. Hydovitz added, “Judges have always had that latitude. The judges are in charge of their court proceedings."


Earlier today, your reporter heard from FACDL President Faccidomo.

He said, “If my 75-year-old mother can figure out how to use ZOOM, I would hope that Florida courts across the State could do the same for both safety and efficiency."

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