Washington Evening Journal
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Washington, IA 52353
As the Jan. 1, 2022 sunset date approaches for Iowa courts’ public health precautions, the state’s judicial branch has released new guidance for the procedures, largely extending deadlines for pandemic-era rules laid out in the last two years.
“When the judicial branch began to plan for a post COVID-19 world, the supreme court established the Lessons Learned Task Force to review the formal orders and informal policies … in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the order signed by Chief Justice Susan Christensen on Dec. 6 said. “After careful review of the Task Force’s recommendations, public comments in response to those recommendations, and the current status of the pandemic, the Iowa Supreme Court orders as follows.”
The new order maintains most of the judicial branch’s precautions first announced in November last year, as well face mask requirements for anyone in “court-controlled spaces,” regardless of their vaccination status or the area’s positivity rate, a rule the branch doubled down on in August of this year.
Some rules, however, are changed by the new order.
After November of 2020, previous orders stated “strong encouragement” for civil, non-jury trials to be conducted remotely, as well as authorization for civil proceedings to accept virtual testimonies. The new guidelines partially reset that approach while leaving room for exceptions.
“Trials are presumed to be held in person,” the Dec. 6 order said. “In civil cases, with the parties’ consent and in the court’s discretion, the court may permit jury and nonjury trials or otherwise take testimony by videoconference or telephone.”
While the recent order entails other minor changes, they are mostly comprised of rewordings and clarifications for corner cases not explicitly covered by previous orders.
Still, some rules scheduled to expire at the start of next year seem likely to do so. One notable example pertains to the use of electronic signatures, which previous orders temporarily allowed for documents made under oath or being notarized.
With no mention of the signature law suspension in the newest set of requirements, hard-copy signatures would once again be required by state law at the start of next year.