April 23rd Update: COVID-19 Impact on Litigation in Idaho

There are two significant updates we would like to inform you about: the Idaho Supreme Court’s most recent order and Idaho Governor Brad Little’s announcement that Idaho will begin relaxing stay-at-home orders.

IDAHO SUPREME COURT ORDER REGARDING OPERATIONS:

On April 22, 2020, the Idaho Supreme Court provided its latest order regarding the operation of Idaho’s courts in the COVID-19 era.

The most significant aspect of the Idaho Supreme Court’s most recent order is that the order stated that no civil jury trials shall commence before October 5, 2020, while criminal trials are set to begin no earlier that August 3, 2020. Idaho’s courts are backlogged with criminal trials which have been delayed by COVID-19, and the Idaho Supreme Court must prioritize criminal trials because Idaho constitutionally guarantees criminal defendants the right to a speedy trial.

While the order will certainly delay the resolution of some cases, the order also instructs courts, in a more affirmative manner than it has before, to begin holding remote hearings. The order provides that “all other court proceedings are presumptively to be held remotely” and that any court rule which prevented a hearing from being held remotely are suspended during the effective term of this order. The order also provides that a judge has the discretion to determine that a proceeding must be held in person because of the court’s needs or to prevent undue prejudice to a party. Interestingly, the order also prevents a judge from being disqualified without cause in any case.

It should be pointed out that the Idaho Supreme Court’s latest order is couched in some tentative language. The order states that it is operative “until further order of this Court.”  Therefore, we can expect that some changes will occur as this pandemic and its impacts to Idaho’s courts shake out.

IDAHO GOVERNOR BRAD LITTLE’S PHASED REOPENING PLAN:

On April 23, 2020, Idaho Governor Brad Little announced a plan to begin relaxing the restrictions related to COVID-19 that are currently in place in Idaho. According to the plan, Idaho is to reopen in four stages so long as certain criteria are met. While most aspects of the staged reopening will not influence the litigation process, there are several that will.

First, in Stage One (tentatively scheduled to take place between May 1 to May 15), employees are to begin returning to work in phases, assuming that appropriate precautions are taken. Accordingly, many law firms across the state will likely begin returning personnel to the offices, which should expedite processes that have been complicated by the work from home process.

Second, in Stage Two, gatherings of not more than 10 people are permitted to take place. This means those depositions that we have not been able to take place remotely can begin to take place around this time. Likewise, in-person mediations may begin to take place.

Third and finally, Governor Little’s plan allows for gatherings of more than 50 people beginning in Phase Four (tentatively scheduled for June 13-June 26). It is therefore possible that the Idaho Supreme Court could reconsider the dates set out in its order and begin to schedule criminal trials during Phase Four, which could likewise lead to civil jury trials being scheduled sometime before October 5, 2020.