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New coronavirus precautions issued for state courts


FARMINGTON — The New Mexico Supreme Court has issued a new order for the state judiciary system on March 17, enacting new coronavirus precautionary measures including suspended new criminal jury trials until the end of April.

The state Supreme Court order on March 17 follows previous direction given to the state judiciary system to implement protective measures after Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham declared a public health emergency on March 11.

The new order suspends all new criminal jury trials for district, metropolitan and magistrate courts until April 30, according to a copy of New Mexico Supreme Court order obtained by The Daily Times.

Civil jury trials were previously suspended earlier this month.

San Juan County Chief Deputy District Attorney Dustin O'Brien told The Daily Times his biggest concern of the order was the criminal jury trials being suspended.

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"It's going to cause jury trials to stack up in the future, but I understand why doing the trials logistically was going to be difficult from a safety standpoint."

A judge has the power to proceed with a criminal jury trial if there is an "exceptional circumstance," according to the order.

The New Mexico Law Offices of the Public Defender sent a letter from Chief Public Defender Bennett Baur to the New Mexico Supreme Court on March 15, seeking additional protections due to the coronavirus.

Those measures included vacating all jury trials for 30 days along with allowing telephonic hearings for hearings like pretrial/status conferences, according to a state public defender office press release.

The state Supreme Court order includes additional protective measures for the state's courts.

All district, metropolitan, magistrate and appellate courts in the state will remain open.

Attorneys are not allowed to excuse judges from cases, to better manage caseloads and eventually distribute caseloads among judges.

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“The precautionary measures imposed by the Judiciary (on March 17) will provide additional safeguards for all New Mexicans while allowing necessary court functions to continue,” Chief Justice Judith Nakamura said in a New Mexico Administrative Office of the Courts press release.

No blanket cancellations of cases or types of proceedings not already authorized will take place.

All trials not suspended will be limited to 25 people in a single location to facilitate social distancing.

Judges can authorize video or telephonic attendance for court appearances for litigants, attorneys and witnesses along with approving appearances by defendants through remote video appearances.

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O'Brien said it is good that judges have the discretion to hold telephonic or video appearances, which will help attorneys work through criminal cases.

Some judicial court employees are now permitted to work from home as long as on-site staff remain to operate the courthouse.

Rules for court filings have been relaxed for attorneys and people representing themselves to allow fax or email filings.

Courthouses will screen visitors and deny access to anyone with a fever, cough or shortness of breath in last two weeks along with those who report close contact to an person infected with the coronavirus.

Municipal courts may close if the presiding judge chooses to or it's in a county or municipal building that is closed.

Joshua Kellogg covers breaking news for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at

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