Chief Justice Heavican: Our State Courts Remain Open

Chief Justice Heavican: Our State Courts Remain Open

Friday, March 20, 2020

During Emergencies, Courts are Essential:

The Nebraska Judicial Branch remains committed to public safety and to protecting the constitutional rights of individuals. Crime does not stop during an emergency. Likewise, the need to address child neglect and administer juvenile justice continues, as does the need for emergency protection orders. The need to protect vulnerable adults also remains. Because these needs, along with a host of other issues, can only be addressed by our courts and trial judges, it is essential that our state courts continue to operate during the Novel Coronavirus and COVID-19 public health emergency.

Leadership on Pandemic Preparedness:

Nebraska has been a leader in preparing for and responding to pandemics. For more than a year, Nebraska’s Judicial Branch has been planning for, and developing a response to, a pandemic threat. In May of last year, the Judicial Branch hosted a Summit on Pandemic Preparedness at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Teams from 25 states and three territories came together to discuss the need to plan for a pandemic. As part of our preparedness and response planning, a Bench Book for Nebraska Courts was developed to assist judges facing concerns related to pandemics, such as those we are facing now. This bench book is accessible to the public and available on the Nebraska Supreme Court’s website. See

Nebraska Judicial Branch response to novel coronavirus: 

Weeks ago, the Administrative Office of the Courts and Probation began assessing how COVID-19 would impact the ability of courts and probation offices across the State of Nebraska to carry out their essential functions. An internal team was formed. The team met regularly to monitor the evolving threat of COVID-19, and to provide guidance to all courts and probation offices in Nebraska’s 93 counties. It soon became clear that implementation of our response plan was necessary.

Chief Justice’s Administrative Order:

On March 12, 2020, the Chief Justice issued an Administrative Order regarding the Novel Coronavirus and COVID-19, which announced a state-wide Emergency Preparedness Plan for all state trial courts and all probation offices. The Chief Justice’s Administrative Order also set out requirements for counsel, parties, and probation clients who may have been exposed to or diagnosed with COVID-19 regarding attendance at court hearings or trials, depositions, and/or probation supervision meetings. The Chief Justice’s Order can be found here  

Local Emergency Preparedness Plans:

Our pandemic response infrastructure includes local Emergency Preparedness Plans designed by local judges to identify essential functions and cases in their communities and respond appropriately. By design, the local Emergency Preparedness Plans will vary from court to court. Each of our county and district courts have different resources and needs, and our pandemic response permits each district in Nebraska to identify its own continuity of operations plan prepared by the judges and staff in that district. The Administrative Office of the Courts and Probation provides guidance and assistance with those plans, but the innovation and execution is implemented at the local level to meet the unique needs of our communities.

Our trial court judges and probation offices are working diligently to respond to constantly evolving conditions presented by this situation. Judges are meeting with local bar associations, county commissioners, and attorneys to develop workable solutions, put plans together, and execute those plans. Webinars are being conducted twice per day for judges and staff to brainstorm and actively share information with other courts and other states. The Judicial Branch is engaged in regular conference calls to answer questions and provide our courts and probation offices with necessary tools to address this public health emergency.

Nebraska Appellate Courts Response and Judicial Branch Website:

The Nebraska appellate courts remain operational too. The Nebraska Supreme Court and Nebraska Court of Appeals have each taken steps to limit the need for counsel and parties to travel to the State Capitol, without disrupting the orderly processing of appeals. During this time, the Office of the Clerk of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals also remains operational. The Judicial Branch has shared all pandemic planning information on the Court’s website, including all orders and State Court Administrator memoranda.

Nebraska State Courts are Open:

Our state courts provide essential services for our communities. While some court services may be limited or disrupted, and some court buildings may have been closed by specific counties, our state courts remain both operational and accessible in each of Nebraska’s 93 counties. The health and safety of all court users and court staff is a priority. Our pandemic preparedness and response is designed to keep the Judicial Branch operational during this public health emergency and to provide the public with access to the courts.