WILMINGTON — On Tuesday, Chief Justice Collins J. Seitz Jr. — in consultation with other justices and judges throughout the state, as well as health experts — signed what is hoped to be the final order extending the judicial emergency to July 13.
The order, which is the 16th such extension since the emergency was first declared by the chief justice March 16, 2020, will restore normal court rules and procedures, including amended speedy-trial guidelines that had been placed on hold during the pandemic.
The judicial workforce is also authorized to return to 100% staffing, starting July 6.
“We are taking this action in the wake of positive news about falling infection rates and deaths due to COVID-19 thanks to high vaccination rates, along with the Governor’s announcement that he was lifting the state of emergency for the State of Delaware on July 13, 2021,” said Chief Justice Seitz in a news release.
In addition, after consulting with health experts, Delaware Courts will be dropping its mask mandate Thursday for all fully vaccinated individuals — including both employees and visitors to state courthouses. Those who are not yet fully vaccinated or are immunocompromised must continue to wear masks in court facilities. Those who are simply more comfortable wearing a mask should continue to do so without any hesitancy, the chief justice added.
And while some precautionary measures, like the mask mandate for fully vaccinated individuals and capacity limits on courthouse visitors and employees, will be lifted, other COVID-19 precautions will remain in place for now, including social distancing and the use of Plexiglas shields throughout court buildings, as operations transition back to normal.
In restoring speedy-trial guidelines, court officials have adopted special rules for cases delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, so they can be heard in a timely manner. Jury trials have now resumed in Superior Court in all three counties, Court of Common Pleas will be resuming jury trials in August, and the chief justice said all courts will continue to give priority to pandemic-delayed criminal cases.
The Delaware Courts plan a robust scheduling effort throughout the rest of the year.
“I am proud of the way the Delaware Bench and Bar and judicial branch employees responded in this moment of crisis to keep our court system operating safely, efficiently and fairly during these unprecedented times,” Chief Justice Seitz said.
“We will continue to monitor the public health situation in Delaware, and if needed will not hesitate to reinstate COVID-19 prevention protocols and restrictions if conditions change for the worse.”
The order is available on the Delaware Courts website.