As we know, the current situation involving COVID-19 and its’ impact on our lives changes on a moment-by-moment basis. Earlier today (March 24, 2020), Judge Bill Gravell issued a Stay Home Stay Safe Order mandating that individuals stay home except for essential business activity, or essential governmental services, effective beginning at 11:59 p.m. on March 24, 2020, and running through the early hours of April 14, 2020, unless modified at some future date. The Order also mandates that everyone practice social distancing when practical. The Order does allow carryout food service, grocery runs, and then checking in on elderly members at their homes, but not visiting folks at Nursing Homes and Long-Term Care facilities.
Because of the recent Order, the physical space where I office is closed; however, I am available by telephone or Skype to discuss your situation. The Courts in Williamson County are extending court dates, so please check your email and voicemail for emails and calls notifying you of the new dates. While the physical office is closed, my staff and I are working on your cases and, if a resolution is reached, we can schedule certain court hearings to close cases. The one thing that is NOT occurring at this time is jury trials, or hearings over non-emergency contested matters, such as motions to suppress evidence.
If you are not sure if we have your current email address or telephone number, please contact my office so we can update that information. This way we can make ensure that you receive timely notice of new court dates and the status of your cases. Within the last five days, multiple cases were reset and we are in the process of letting folks know of the new court dates.
Impact of Governmental Orders – Potential Criminal Charges:
Both Travis and Williamson Counties have seen their share of emergency orders being issued relating to restrictions on crowd size, restrictions on businesses, and, while I am not aware of any quarantine orders being issued, if you are suffering from COVID-19, don’t be surprised if you receive a quarantine order. The recent orders signed by Governor Abbott yesterday place further restrictions upon businesses, group size, and visiting loved ones in nursing homes.
Beginning at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, March 24, 2020, Williamson County, in conjunction with Travis County, is requiring folks to stay home and avoid all non-essential activities. While going to the grocery store, bank, or going through the drive-thru of a restaurant are allowed during this time period, showing up to work at a movie theater is not considered essential. To see a copy of the Order, please click here williamson-county.org/stay-home-stay-safe
It is important to understand that violating this Order can subject you to criminal penalties of up to 180 days in jail and a fine not to exceed $1,000. While it may be difficult for someone to determine if you are really violating the Order, don’t engage in questionable activity during this time. While helping your neighbor, elderly family member or elderly friend is encouraged, please exercise appropriate hygiene when doing so.
As mentioned above, restaurants can still provide take-out, and under the Governor’s earlier Order that is still in effect that temporarily suspends State regulations concerning the delivery and carry-out of alcohol with your meals – so wash that queso down with a margarita or cold beer. If you do get some beer, wine or mixed drinks to go, just don’t consume it while driving home. Wait until you get home before drinking, you don’t need to be facing an open container or DWI charge. The management or ownership of restaurants that fail to comply with the order restricting services to delivery or carry-out could face the same criminal penalties as those who gather in groups of more than 10 – a fine and possible jail time.
If you are faced with a quarantine order, the penalties are significantly more severe. Instead of a misdemeanor, you now face a potential felony conviction and up to 10 years in prison. Again, while I am not aware of any quarantine orders being issued in Williamson County, if you find yourself being asked to stay indoors, do it for the safety of those around, let along not wanting to be face to face with the criminal justice system.
Impact Upon The Court System:
As an Essential Governmental Function, the Courts in Williamson County are operating, albeit at a reduced capacity. While the Courts are NOT conducting any jury trials until (for now) the first week of May, certain matters are being handled such as plea bargains entered in criminal cases, juvenile court proceedings, mental health-based civil commitments, and certain emergency matters in other civil cases. Because of the social distancing requirements, and a desire to keep folks safe, the Courts are instituting certain technologies to handle certain types of hearings, including the use of video-conferencing through Microsoft Teams, for hearings.
If you are a client and think that you have court between now and April 15, please reach out to us if you have not already heard from us. We did send some revised notices out last week and will be sending more out over the next two weeks with the new hearing dates, and any additional changes that occur.
For those family members with someone incarcerated in the Williamson County jail, please note that there is no “corona bond” or “COVID-19 bond”. Instead, the Courts are doing what they always do, evaluate each case and request for bond or pre-trial release to see what is appropriate as required by Texas law. These steps were already taken for my clients that re in jail.
Impact Upon Businesses:
Unfortunately, some of the orders that are issued are causing businesses to suffer financial hardship. One piece of legislation being debated by the federal legislature involves the potential of paid time-off for certain businesses. At present, it is unclear if this will include small businesses, but make sure to check out www.dol.gov for updates on this legislation, and other tips on how to help your business.
Similarly, this legislation appears to have provisions aimed at funding some of the emergency decrees signed last week concerning loans through the small business administration. Check out www.sba.gov for information about the assistance that the SBA can provide you and your small business.
As each day passes, we realize that this crisis is not going to resolve itself quickly. While Texas has taken what some consider drastic steps and is allowing local governments to take even more aggressive steps as they deem necessary, don’t lose sight of the bigger picture – to the goal is to lessen the transmission rate, so that the virus can die out quicker, and life can get back to normal. Again, if you go out, make sure to pack plenty of patience, and for everyone, let’s remember to thank those that are out there working in the grocery stores, hospitals, sanitation services, and other important industries that help make our lives a little easier.