(Reuters) - The chair of the federal judiciary’s policymaking body on Tuesday said the U.S. legal system is “going to have difficulties” if the rapid spread of a novel Coronavirus “gets more drastic,” as courts nationwide postpone trials and restrict access due to public health concerns.
U.S. District Judge Claire Eagan in Oklahoma, who chairs the executive committee of the U.S. Judicial Conference, said the judiciary is asking Congress for $7 million in additional funding to cover the next three months, during the group’s semi-annual meeting on Tuesday, which was held by conference call.
Most of the money would go toward providing individual counseling instead of group counseling to those on probation.
Eagan said most district courts and appeals courts have already taken some kind of action in response to the Coronavirus outbreak. Although each court makes its own decisions on how to operate, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has set up a task force that is providing guidance.
”We have a unique role because we have to uphold the rule of law,” she said.
The Coronavirus, which can cause the sometimes fatal respiratory disease COVID-19, has spread quickly throughout the U.S., killing at least 83 people.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit suspended all in-house oral arguments at its courthouse in Washington D.C. The day before, the U.S. Supreme Court took the rare step of postponing its upcoming round of oral arguments.
Also on Monday, the federal district court in Washington D.C. and the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, which includes San Francisco and San Jose, were the latest courts to announce they were putting jury trials and other proceedings on hold.
Officials in six San Francisco Bay Area counties on Monday had ordered residents to stay at home for all but the most crucial outings until April 7 because of the virus.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Eagan noted that courts throughout the U.S. are receiving requests from lawyers to delay cases because they do not wish to appear in court. Jurors are also expressing concerns, she said.
In certain sensitive or high-stakes cases, courts are weighing how to proceed by using teleconferencing, although some courts are not equipped to provide access to the public and media, Eagan said.