Scott asked that I give you my point of view of how the pandemic has impacted the federal court in Nebraska. I will be short and only as transparent as I feel comfortable. Some things I am holding very close to my vest. And, of course, this post is personal and cannot be taken as an overview of the entire federal judiciary or my particular court.
First, our court is essentially shut down with most everyone working from home. My CRD who is a young woman, with no children, has volunteered to staff the Lincoln Clerk’s office every day. (She’s the best.) She will have one additional person help her each day with that second person serving on a rotating basis. A similar rotation system, I believe, is operating in Omaha. CM/ECF (electronic filing) is up and running as usual.
Second, we have effectively shut down all civil and criminal trials and in-person hearings through May 1st. See here. (Note we have excluded the time under the Speedy Trial Act.) We have the systems in place at the various jails to get this done via video conferencing thanks largely to our Magistrate Judges and our superb local IT staff with the cooperation of the jails.
Third, the criminal law in this area is uncertain. But we believe the pathogen allows us to use video conferences for almost everything except for critical stages of the proceedings. Even then, a waiver may suffice. Our court has been presented with extremely detailed advice on these legal issues prepared by very smart law clerks here in Nebraska. Elsewhere, I have no idea what your courts may conclude as a legal matter.
Fourth, yesterday, we had a big glitch nationally. Our government-issued iPhones and laptops failed to a significant degree. They are now up and running. I am told this was not a function of overload. So, if you saw a delay yesterday, blame it on God.
Fifth, throughout, our Chief Judge, John Gerrard, has been in close contact with the Federal Public Defender, US Attorney and the U.S. Marshal. I think it fair to say that they generally are all on board.
Stay tuned! All the best.
Richard G. Kopf
Senior United States District Judge Nebraska