Supporting the Nation's Judicial System & the Public it Serves


Pandemic Benchbook Now Available

The Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA) Pandemic and Emergency Response Task Force has recently published a new tool for courts titled, Preparing for a Pandemic: An Emergency Response Benchbook and Operational Guidebook for State Court Judges and Administrators.  This project was supported by SJI.

Facilitated with expertise provided by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), the Task Force highlights emergency preparedness as a necessary element of the court planning process. The objective is to prompt state and local court leaders without an existing pandemic benchbook to create one and keep it regularly updated,  and their judicial officers and court staff trained. The benchbook briefly touches on recent natural disaster and public health crises where courts and their partners worked together to ensure continuity of operations.

One of the features of the benchbook is its informed perspective that the Task Force assembled through both and extensive literature review and a visit to the University of Nebraska Medical Center and Nebraska Medicine’s biocontainment unit.  The Guide addresses a cadre of specific legal issues, authority, and notification that must occur.  Content by chapter includes the following:

  • Chapter 1 – Jurisdiction of Public Health Issues
  • Chapter 2 – Executive Branch Authority in a Public Health Emergency
  • Chapter 3 – Searches, Seizures, and Other Government Actions to Ensure Public Health
  • Chapter 4 – Proceedings Regarding Limitations on Individual Liberties and the Rights of Petitioners
  • Chapter 5 – Model Orders and Court Rules

After detailed appendices and references, which provide extensive content regarding the nature of a pandemic caused by biological hazards, examples of quarantine processes, and the order of agencies which should be notified and enlisted for assistance, Part II offers a template  for a benchbook that addresses the legal questions that could arise during a pandemic.  Some of the key issues addressed in the template include: Implications for the Courts; Powers of the Chief Justice or State Court of Last Resort; Appearance of Individuals Posing a Potential Threat to Public Health; Juror Management Considerations; Additional Judicial Personnel; Consolidation of Cases; Emergency Court Closure and Relocation of Court; Limiting Public Access to the Courts; Communication; and, Technology Preparedness

The Guide was dedicated in memory of former Arkansas Chief Justice Jim Hannah, who served as CCJ President when this grant was awarded and whose leadership formed the Pandemic Response Task Force.