321st District Court of Smith County, Texas Announces New Procedures During COVID-19 Outbreak

The 321st District Court announced the following changes to court procedures on March 17, 2020:

In response to the Supreme Court’s order regarding court administration during the coronavirus pandemic as well as Governor Abbot’s disaster declaration, the 321st District Court is providing the following protocols as to ongoing operations.

The office of the 321st District Court will remain in operation. The chambers space remains a secure area and access will only be permitted for authorized personnel. Any persons suspected to be positive for COVID-19 (the coronavirus) or otherwise showing symptoms of any respiratory illness, including a cough or fever shall not be admitted into the chambers space.

Any matters which are agreed upon such as uncontested divorces, may be handled through submission with an affidavit. If a record is absolutely necessary, it can be done telephonically. Please contact the Court to arrange that if needed.

The Court will continue to conduct hearings on urgent Child Welfare Cases (though see later reference to protocols on this), Protective Order Applications, Temporary Orders where family violence is alleged or any matters where violence or child abuse/neglect is alleged. These matters shall be considered “essential matters” for purposes of the OCA Directive to the Courts in response to COVID-19. It is encouraged to provide testimony telephonically if at all possible.

Child Welfare hearings involving the Department of Family and Protective Services (“DFPS”) shall be conducted through video conferencing, to specifically include the entire Thursday CPS docket. Parents and caregivers may report to the 321st courtroom where video conference hardware will be provided. CASA volunteer advocates may provide their reports through their CASA supervisor or by submitting a written report to be presented through CASA staff. CPS cases not of an urgent nature should be moved to a later date.

All Jury Trials are suspended until mid-April when jury panels shall resume.

As to OAG cases, hearings will only be conducted in regard to incarcerated respondents. Agreed upon matters may be handled through submission as noted previously.

All other nonessential matters shall be postponed and rescheduled for a date after April 1, 2020, unless arrangements for a telephonic hearing are made in advance with the Court. The pro se docket conducted on Friday afternoons is cancelled until further notice.

If after reviewing this, you have a question as to whether your case will be heard, please contact the Court Administrator, Rosie Rogers, at RRogers2@smith-county.com.

IT IS MANDATORY THAT ANY PERSON ENTERING THE COURTROOM must NOTIFY SECURITY IF THEY ARE POSTIVE FOR COVID-19 (the coronavirus) or if they are experiencing a fever, cough or any flu-like symptoms. All persons are directed to use hand sanitizer and avoid physical contact with other persons in the courtroom. All persons are encouraged to practice “social distancing” and maintain a 6 foot buffer with all others in the courtroom to the extent possiblel. counsel are urged to leave sick clients at home and present any testimony through affidavit or telephonically. The court will liberally allow appearances by telephone during this time.

The Court strongly recommends that attendance in the Courtroom be limited to the parties, their counsel and witnesses. Family members and friends are encouraged to wait outside the Courthouse or – if absolutely necessary – in the Courthouse lobby. We are attempting to limit the number of people gathering in the courtroom at any given time.

Thank you for your patience during this difficult time.

Robert H. Wilson, Presiding Judge

321st District Court,

Smith County, Texas

Bryan Willis
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321st District Court of Smith County, Texas Announces New Procedures During COVID-19 Outbreak

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