Changes to weekend, holiday hearings in Sarasota and DeSoto

In a February 11, 2021 memo to justice system partners and community services agencies, Twelfth Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Kimberly Bonner announced changes to weekend and holiday first appearance proceedings in Sarasota and DeSoto counties, effective February 20, 2021. Judge Bonner said:

In response to the Coronavirus pandemic, in March 2020, I directed all first appearance hearings in Sarasota County to be conducted from the Judge Lynn N. Silvertooth Judicial Center, with the judge, attorneys and court staff, including courtroom clerks, establishing a remote connection to the Sarasota County Jail. Operating out of the Judicial Center rather than the jail allowed the court to ensure proper health and safety protocols were performed when judges, attorneys and court staff were required to be physically present to participate in the proceedings. However, this also required Court Administration, the Sheriff’s Office and Sarasota County’s Facilities Department to have staff on site to screen attorneys and the public, protect the judge and secure the building, and sanitize the courtroom and public areas of the building each day.

Over the last several months, we have had many discussions with the Sheriff’s Office to develop a plan for resuming weekend and holiday first appearances at the Sarasota County Jail. The Sheriff’s Office has made modifications to the jail courtroom – including the installation of a protective divider between the defendant and attorneys – and developed protocols relating to the entrance and social distancing of judges, attorneys, court staff and victims. After a recent walkthrough of the facility and review of their protocols, I am now confident that we can safely conduct first appearances from the Sarasota County Jail, just as we have been doing in the Judicial Center since March.   

Effective Saturday, February 20, 2021, weekend and holiday first appearances will return to the Sarasota County Jail, with the judge, attorneys and court staff appearing in-person from the jail facility. Due to the limited space available for social distancing, Sarasota shelter & detention hearings will continue to be conducted telephonically from the Sarasota County Jail, as will DeSoto County first appearances.

I thank the Sheriff’s Office for supporting our weekend and holiday operations at the Judicial Center for nearly a year, I appreciate their efforts to resume our traditional operations at the jail and welcome your input regarding any potential improvements to the process. Below are the protocols that will be in place at the jail and the health screening questions that will be asked of each individual entering the facility.

Weekend & Holiday First Appreance Protocols

This post was edited to correct the date of Judge Bonner's memo from Feburary 10, 2021, to February 11, 2021.

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