Robert E. Landt

County Judge

Judicial Assistant: Kimberly J. Banks
Office: 352-401-6713
Fax: 352-401-6789

Electronic Hearings During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Florida Supreme Court’s Order AOSC20-23 and our Chief Judge, Judge Merritt, Jr.’s order of April 7, 2020 provide the authority to require electronic hearings. In AOSC20-23 (B) “to maintain judicial workflow to the maximum extent feasible, chief judges are directed to take all necessary steps to facilitate conducting proceedings with the use of technology.”

The order further provides, “judges and court personnel who can effectively conduct court and judicial branch business from a remote location shall do so.   Further, the Supreme Court order provides that the “the chief judge of each judicial circuit remains authorized to establish temporary procedures for the use, to the maximum extent feasible, of communication equipment for the conducting of proceedings by remote electronic means, as are necessary in their respective circuits due to the public health emergency”.   The Chief Judge directs, paragraph 5, of A-2020-12-D, that “all non-essential hearings are to be conducted via electronic communication to the maximum extent feasible.”

Pursuant to the Supreme Court’s Order and the Chief Judge’s Order, the trial courts have the authority to and are required to utilize electronic hearings to do the courts business.

We are not alone in this, all courts in Texas, New Jersey, Michigan, and New York have implemented procedures (also authorized by their highest courts) to conduct the business of the courts by remote electronic means.  As an aside, all those courts have chosen Zoom as their preferred platform.  As of today, only 11 states in the union, do not have a statewide order for virtual hearings. Nationally, courts are recognizing that the courts must implement electronic hearings during this pandemic.

The court will schedule both Criminal and Civil matters to be heard via ZOOM and Court Call in order to continue to do as much of the court’s business as is possible within the bounds of existing Administrative Orders and Executive Orders.

Change of Plea Docket During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Notice is hereby given to all attorneys representing individuals charged with a misdemeanor offence, and placed on Judge Landt’s docket, wishing to resolve their case.  Cases may be resolved by using the ZOOM platform or by phone.

The requirements to place a case on the docket are:

  1. If the resolution is pursuant to a negotiated plea agreement and the defendant is unable to electronically initial and sign the agreement, defense counsel may certify on the agreement, that counsel and the defendant have reviewed the plea agreement and that the defendant has accepted the agreement, waived his/her constitutional rights and stipulates to resolving the case remotely.
  2. If the defendant is pleading open to the court the defendant and defense counsel must stipulate to resolving the case remotely and file a written waiver of the defendants’ constitutional rights.
  3. All necessary paperwork to resolve the case must be signed and completed prior to the case being heard by the court.
  4. The defendant must be present or a waiver of appearance and plea in absentia must be executed by the defendant and filed with the clerk of court.
  5. All hearings will be conducted remotely, by ZOOM, no face-to-face contact.
  6. The clerk of court may attend remotely.
  7. If an interpreter is needed, it is the responsibility of defense counsel to arrange for the court interpreter. The interpreter shall attend remotely.
  8. Any attorney wishing to place a case on the docket shall contact the court by emailing the J.A. at kbanks@circuit5.org.
  9. All hearings shall be set by the J.A.
  10. In cases where the Florida Statutes mandate adjudication of guilt or where the negotiated plea requires adjudication, the defendant must be fingerprinted. Defense counsel shall be responsible for obtaining the defendants fingerprints and filing the print card with the clerk.
  11. If the court determines the case meets criteria, a date, time and mechanism of the hearing (ZOOM) will be provided to all counsel.
  12. The court reserves the right to accept or reject any case from this special
  13. The Court will accept any plea in absentia where the normal statutory requirements are met. The Court will accept pleas in absentia without a fingerprint card on any case where adjudication of guilt is withheld. However, the defense will have to provide proof of Identity if a Fingerprint Card is not included.
  14. Prior to any open plea being heard by the court all efforts must be made by defense counsel and the state attorney’s office to hold plea discussions.

*NOTICE TO THE PUBLIC:* The Code of Judicial Conduct governing behavior by judges forbids the Judges of the Fifth Judicial Circuit to discuss pending cases with the public. Please do not call the Court expecting to speak with a Judge about any case. The Court is only allowed to consider arguments made in the courtroom and in documents properly filed by actual parties in the case as authorized by law and the Rules of Court. The Court cannot ethically read or consider any other opinions or arguments about the case. Communications that do not meet these legal requirements cannot be forwarded to the Judges.