Coronavirus impacting Indiana courts, law firms, schools

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect that Faegre Drinker offices reopened Wednesday and that the Indiana Court of Appeals has instructed its employees to work at home.

The Indiana legal community is taking precautions and ramping up efforts to stay healthy as the coronavirus spreads. Meanwhile, Faegre Drinker announced Wednesday that it had reopened most of its offices, including its Indianapolis location. The firm had closed all 22 of its global offices Tuesday after a person who attended a firm event in Washington, D.C., tested positive for COVID-19.

“After a thorough review, nearly all firm offices have returned to normal business operations today, Wednesday, March 11,” Faegre Drinker said in a statement. “As an ongoing measure of caution, Faegre Drinker’s Washington, D.C. offices remain closed with status being evaluated daily. Our Washington, D.C. colleagues are equipped with the required technology to work remotely and remain ready and available to assist clients. We are not aware of any Faegre Drinker personnel who have tested positive for coronavirus — this is simply a precautionary measure while we evaluate the appropriate path forward.”

Preventive efforts come as state health officials announced Wednesday morning that 10 Hoosiers had tested positive for COVID-19 as of midnight.

Courts

The Indiana Court of Appeals has directed its employees to work remotely at least through March 16 after learning some of its workers have had second- and third-degree exposure to others who have tested positive for the coronavirus.

“We would like to emphasize that nobody from the court has tested positive or is currently exhibiting symptoms,” Chief Judge Cale Bradford said in a statement. “Given the importance of our work, our employees are equipped and trained to work remotely. … We will continue to evaluate this situation as it unfolds.”

Bradford also advised, “Those doing work with the Court of Appeals of Indiana should conduct business under the regular rules and procedures.”

Lake Circuit Court issued two orders Tuesday in response to the outbreak.

From now until April 10, 2020, the court will allow attorneys to just file a “Notice of Remote Appearance” rather than filing a motion in order to appear telephonically for any status conference or non-evidentiary hearing. Also, the court has ordered anyone who comes to the Lake Circuit courtrooms who is ill or has been exposed to COVID-19 to immediately alert the court staff.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana and the Indiana Supreme Court along with the Office of Judicial Administration are reviewing plans to deal with the outbreak and are advising judges and staff to stay home if they become ill.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana did not respond to an inquiry from the Indiana Lawyer.

Although it has no plans at this time to cancel or postpone any hearings or trials, the Southern Indiana District Court said it is developing an alternative format for its naturalization ceremonies. Also, the federal court is reviewing its Continuity of Operations Plan and is following the guidance regarding the COVID-19 virus provided by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as state and local health departments.

The Southern Indiana District Court has protective equipment, such as facemasks, which it said it will distribute only to case participants, including jurors, showing signs of respiratory illness. Hand sanitizers and disinfecting wipes are available to court staff.

Likewise, the 7th Circuit has not made any changes to its operations, according to the appellate court. However, it is monitoring the outbreak and said it will take whatever steps are necessary as the situation evolves.

At the state level, the Indiana Supreme Court and the Office of Judicial Administration are providing the employees and trial court judges with the latest information from the Indiana State Department of Health. Also, the court has reiterated to its staff and judges across the state the fundamental health prevention measures of getting a flu shot, washing hands, having hand sanitizer available and covering sneezes.

In addition, the court has established an internal working group to manage the OJA’s response.

On March 4, the court sent a letter to all state judges providing guidance on essential functions in response to an emergency such as the spread of the coronavirus. It encouraged local courts to coordinate with their county’s emergency management and health departments as needed.

Law schools

Indiana University announced Tuesday that it would be suspending all in-person classes on all campuses from March 23 to April 5. For those two weeks following the university’s spring break, classes and coursework will continue online.

The suspension includes both IU Maurer and Robert H. McKinney schools of law. They join a growing list of law schools, including Harvard, Stanford University, Columbia University, The Ohio State University, New York University and University of California Berkley, that have cancelled in-person classes or closed completely, according to the ABA Journal.

The University of Notre Dame, including Notre Dame Law School, announced Wednesday it would be canceling classes next week, March 16-20, and then begin online instruction March 23 through at least April 13.

Valparaiso University has an alert posted to its website, saying the outbreak is being closely monitored.

The American Bar Association’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar issued a memo in February giving guidance to law schools for dealing with emergencies or disasters. As to moving classes online, the ABA advised that law schools must consider not only whether the course is appropriate for being taught via the internet but also whether faculty members have the experience and training and the school has the technological capacity to deliver distance education.

“Simply moving a classroom-based course to a video conference call or to a school’s learning management system that supports other courses may be relatively easy, but … may not be an appropriate accommodation compared to, for example, adding extra days to the term when a regular schedule can be resumed,” the memo stated.

Law firms

Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath reopened most of its offices Wednesday, the firm said in a statement, though its Washington offices remained closed for monitoring.

“On Tuesday, March 10, Faegre Drinker asked colleagues across all offices to work remotely after learning of a guest who visited our Washington, D.C. office on 1500 K Street on March 3 and was subsequently diagnosed with COVID-19, commonly known as coronavirus. We then learned of an additional guest in our Washington, D.C. office on March 2 who was also diagnosed with coronavirus following their visit to the firm. Because the scope of each guest’s contact with firm colleagues was not readily known, and because our attorneys, consultants and professionals have been traveling cross-office to support firm integration efforts, we chose to exercise caution while our leadership team evaluated the situation,” the firm said in announcing the reopening of most offices.

“The health and safety of Faegre Drinker’s colleagues, clients, visitors and their loved ones is a top priority. The firm’s executive leadership team acted quickly to protect those we care about, making time to gather key facts, assess risk and determine appropriate next steps. We received helpful advice from a board-certified infectious disease expert with specialized knowledge in communicable diseases, including coronavirus, and consulted with internal specialists. Additionally, we took the precautionary measure of engaging a specialized service to clean and disinfect each office prior to our colleagues returning,” the firm’s Wednesday statement said.

“The coronavirus condition is an ongoing and fluid situation across the globe, and our leadership team will continue to make decisions in real time to ensure the health and safety of our colleagues, clients, visitors and their loved ones. Our thoughts are with those who have been impacted by the virus, and with the health care providers working to combat this global health issue.”

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