Here is the May 28th AO officially closing the 17th Circuit for face to face hearings through July 2nd.
Remarkably, more than two and a half months into the pandemic, Broward still has only one remote courtroom operational for in-custody Defendants to see and interact with their assigned division or duty judges. It’s only available in the afternoon, after First Appearances, and the lone Zoom room is shared by all the Criminal Division judges, meaning inmates can participate in court once or possibly twice a month.
There are currently more than 2700 inmates in the Broward County Jail, on lockdown up to 22 hours a day in small cells with other inmates to control the spread of virus. They have been that way almost since the start of the closures back in March.
The ACLU has been looking at the unique and unprecedented jail conditions in Broward for some time now, and have been made aware of the compounding effect on inmates’ stays caused by restrictions on access to courts. Neighboring counties are, as usual, way ahead of the 17th, with Palm Beach remaining open for easy access to judges for essential and other types of hearings, and Miami-Dade Zooming along all day long in multiple courtrooms, as reported here on JAABLOG and by The Miami Herald’s David Ovalle. Broward’s reputation as a draconian backwater has once again been firmly reinforced by its criminal justice response to the pandemic, where due to a stunning lack of leadership, the vast majority of circuit judges and government lawyers have basically been deemed non-essential personnel.
There is some light at the end of the tunnel. We’re told a second Zoom in-custody courtroom should become available shortly. It will be running both for morning and afternoon sessions. Jack Tuter is set to meet with BACDL today at noon to update everyone, so hopefully he can also be asked some of the tough questions that needed to be posed and answered a long time ago. The link to join the meeting today is here.
In closing, many have seen some of the State Attorney candidates’ activism in the ongoing nationwide protests in the comments section and elsewhere. They are to be commended for their positions, and immediately enlisted to address current jail conditions and access to courts issues in the Circuit they hope to lead. While all are suffering, it’s no secret that the largest racial group currently incarcerated in Broward is African-American, receiving a pandemic double-dose of Broward “justice” while the nation mourns Mr. Floyd and so many others like him …