The Supreme Court of Texas released its 26th Emergency Order in response to COVID-19 on September 18, 2020. The order contains several provisions relevant to judges handling Child Protective Services (CPS) cases. Similar to previous orders, the 26th Emergency Order allows for an extension of dismissal dates under Family Code Section 263.401(b) or (b-1) for 180 days from the date of the order. The order also contains new ways in which proceedings may be conducted prior to the dismissal date. The provisions in the 26th Emergency Order and the Office of Court Administration’s (OCA) Guidance for All Court Proceedings During COVID-19 Pandemic (Guidance) provide some flexibility for judges to hear cases in an expeditious manner in order to maintain a focus on resolving cases and helping children and families achieve permanency.
The order lifts restrictions on conducting remote jury proceedings and provides that courts must continue to use all reasonable efforts to conduct proceedings remotely. The order also authorizes courts to begin to conduct in-person proceedings that follow the updated Guidance. Judges who are authorized to hear jury trials may conduct in-person jury proceedings on or after October 1, 2020 if the local administrative district judge for the county in which the court is located has submitted an operating plan for conducting jury proceedings consistent with OCA’s Guidance before the jury proceeding and after conferring with the judges in the county and the local public health authority.
It is critical for judges handling CPS cases, including Child Protection Court associate judges, to contact the local administrative district judge of each county in which they serve, so that they might be included in the formulation of the jury trial plan of the courts they serve and to become aware of the criteria established for jury trials in each court. Attorneys practicing child welfare law should also become familiar with the local jury trial plans to advocate for prompt resolution on behalf of their clients.