While many states have guidance in place for operating their justice systems during the aftermath of a hurricane or earthquake, the same cannot be said about preparedness for epidemics or pandemics.
Public health emergencies caused by terrorist or naturally-occurring biothreat events prompt a range of complex legal scenarios. In most states, local and state-level health departments may legally enact emergency orders for quarantine or decontamination or people or property. Due process concerns then must be heard in the relevant jurisdictions where these measures are put in place.
In circumstances of highly infectious contagions, courts may need to be prepared for more appearances by video teleconferencing, be prepared to protect the function of the office and source representation.
A task force led by Douglas County District Judge Leigh Anne Retelsdorf created a “bench book” policy guide for the state’s judges and courthouse staff in the event of epidemics or pandemics. She said preparing a plan in Nebraska’s courts made sense since a world-renowned biocontainment facility found a home at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
The book became the model for other courts to follow and was recently made available by the State Justice Institute. It was also the centerpiece for discussion at a national conference convened at UNMC in May 2019.
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