Courts across South Carolina were told this week they must resume normal operations that were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since infection cases began appearing across the state in March, many hearings have been held by Zoom, via teleconference or through other virtual platforms. But in a memorandum released Monday, the state's chief justice ordered all hearings may be heard in person starting a week later, on Sept. 21.
Courts will have to resume normal scheduling and docket management as well, Chief Justice Donald Beatty wrote.
Judges will be allowed to decide whether it would be appropriate to conduct a hearing remotely. Attorneys and the parties involved would not have to consent to the judge's decision for the matter to move forward.
For in-person hearings, only attorneys, the parties involved, necessary witnesses and court staff, along with some members of the media, will be allowed in the courtroom. Hearings will have to be staggered so there aren't too many people in the courtroom or common areas at the same time.
Further, at least 20 minutes must separate the ending of one hearing and the beginning of the next, according to Beatty, which will limit the number of hearings each day. Judges were encouraged to consider ruling on motions without a hearing when appropriate.
During in-person hearings, those present will have to socially distance and wears masks when appropriate, Beatty wrote.
Beatty acknowledged the impacts of the pandemic have been "unprecedented and unpredictable." He said he will continue to monitor court operations and will make alterations if necessary.