Limited Access to Colorado Courts Due to COVID-19
Not surprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic is having an effect on judicial proceedings in Colorado. The Governor and chief judges have acted to limit court activity in order to mitigate the economic consequences and protect the health of those who work or interact with the court system. Colorado state and federal courts are open and operating, but access is limited.
On March 20, 2020, Governor Polis issued Executive Order 2020-012, titled “Order Limiting Evictions, Foreclosures, and Public Utility Disconnections and Expediting Unemployment Insurance Claim Processing to Provide Relief to Coloradans Affected by COVID-19.” The Order is intended to temporarily limit evictions, foreclosures, and public utility disconnections during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among other relief made available, the Order directs the suspension of residential eviction activity until April 30, 2020. Public Trustees are authorized to suspend foreclosure proceedings for thirty (30) days. State-chartered financial institutions are “encouraged” to halt residential and commercial foreclosures, along with related evictions. Financial institutions are also encouraged to provide a ninety (90)-day deferment of payment on all consumer and small business loans.
On March 16, 2020, Chief Justice Nathan Coats of the Colorado Supreme Court signed an Order Regarding COVID-19 and Operation of Colorado State Courts. Pursuant to the Order, certain court operations are suspended, while other essential court services are to be continued. For instance, all jury calls, with the exception of criminal trials facing imminent speedy trial deadlines, are suspended. Proceedings that would normally require expedited attention, such as matters involving public safety or the protection of constitutionally guaranteed rights, should not be effected.
Similarly, the Colorado state courts in the Denver metropolitan region have issued operational notices limiting court proceedings. In Jefferson County, all appearances have been vacated or continued until May 1, 2020 at the earliest, except for matters concerning public safety. Denver County has reduced operations and staff to provide only “essential court services” through May 15, 2020 and persons attending court will be permitted to wear surgical masks and gloves. Operations have been similarly reduced in Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties. Electronic filings are being accepted and processed in the ordinary course, but any matter requiring a hearing, particularly an evidentiary hearing, is likely to be delayed. Litigants should check court websites for information specific to each judicial district.
Chief Judge Phillip Brimmer of the United States District Court for the District of Colorado has entered a series of orders limiting court activity until May 1, 2020 at this time, and all trials have been continued. Access to federal court facilities has been limited and anyone representing an infection risk is prohibited from entering. The Clerk’s Office has been closed and filings can only be accomplished through electronic, mail and the clerk’s drop box on site. Where hearings are required in criminal matters, remote attendance will be required, to the extent possible.
In summary, for the time being, patience will be required in all court matters. Actions to enforce creditors’ rights, particularly where consumers are involved, are likely to be curtailed. Courts are open and filings are being accepted, primarily because of the availability of electronic filing systems in the state and federal courts. Where hearings can be conducted by phone or video, courts are likely to continue to handle matters in the ordinary course. Cases requiring evidentiary hearings or trials are likely to be delayed. At this point, it is impossible to tell the long-term impact on court dockets and schedules. It is likely that these emergency measures will be extended beyond the current time periods.