California and Minnesota bills address issue of court disaster/emergency planning

Two bills filed last week address the need for courts to make plans for disasters and other emergencies.

California SB 1208 as filed amends the state’s existing Judicial Emergency statute (Government Code 68115). Among other things, SB 1208

  1. Expands instances where the Chief Justice, as Chair of Judicial Council, may exercise emergency powers due to disaster/emergency. Currently that power is limited to “war, insurrection, pestilence, or other public calamity” but would be changed to “war, an act of terrorism, public unrest or calamity, epidemic, natural disaster, or other substantial risk to the health and welfare of court personnel or the public.” The Chief Justice could also act where the President or the Governor declared a state of emergency.
  2. Allows civil cases to be move to another county; currently the power is limited to an adjacent county. However, a transfer “shall not be made” (currently “may be made”) except with the consent of all parties to the case or upon a finding by the court that extreme or undue hardship would result unless the case is transferred for trial.
  3. Provides certain civil time limits related to trials are to be extended only to fewest days necessary, however the Chief Justice may make extensions of time on the request of the presiding judge from granting further extensions if circumstances warrant relief.

Minnesota HF 2809 as filed is broader than the California bill and addresses emergency operations and continuity of government for all three branches. As filed, HF 2809 requires the Supreme Court adopt and maintain an emergency operations and continuity of government plan to ensure the secure, continued operation of the judicial branch in the event of a disaster, emergency, or “declared emergency” (defined as “a national security or peacetime emergency declared by the governor under section 12.31.”)

At minimum, the plan must include

  1. identification of at least three suitable locations within the state at which the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and central administrative functions of the judicial branch could operate in the event of a disaster or declared emergency that make its regular location unsafe or inaccessible, with one location designated as a primary alternate location and two designated as backup alternate locations if the primary location is unsafe or inaccessible;
  2. plans to provide timely and secure communications regarding a disaster, emergency, or declared emergency to all affected personnel, including alternate methods of communication if a primary method is unavailable;
  3. plans to securely transport affected justices, judges, designated personnel, and necessary equipment and records to an alternate location and begin judicial operations at that location in a timely manner;
  4. plans to ensure reasonable public notice of the judicial branch’s operations and access to its proceedings and records in-person or by electronic, broadcast, or other means as the rules of the court require and the circumstances of the emergency allow;
  5. plans to ensure the rights and protections guaranteed by the federal and state constitutions to criminal defendants, petitioners, and civil litigants are preserved;
  6. procedures for the orderly return of judicial branch operations to their regular location, as soon as circumstances allow; and
  7. policy decisions that address any other procedures or protocols recommended for inclusion by the state director of emergency management.