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Rotunda Report
  • Rotunda Report
    March 27, 2020

    Government, Courts, and State Bar Respond to COVID-19

    artist's conception of coronavirus

    March 27, 2020 – It's been two weeks since President Donald Trump declared a national emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but for many it feels like a lifetime ago. The USA now leads the world in number of confirmed cases. Our daily routines, our economy, and our way of life has been turned upside down as political leaders and public health officials scramble to issue unprecedented “social distancing” measures to protect vulnerable populations from the novel coronavirus.

    Governor Tony Evers issued a “Safer at Home” executive order to begin on Wednesday, March 25, and lasting until April 24 (or until future notice). The order bans non-essential travel and instructs all non-essential businesses to either suspend operations, have employees work from home, or some combination of both.

    At the request of the State Bar of Wisconsin, Evers exempted legal services from the “Safer at Home” order, deeming them to be “essential business services.” The order states that attorneys and law firms “shall, to the greatest extent possible, use technology to avoid meeting in person, including virtual meetings, teleconference, and remote work (i.e., work from home).”

    The Supreme Court of Wisconsin has also taken steps to respond to the crisis, issuing four orders regarding Court operations and processes. The first order postpones all civil and criminal jury trials through May 22, 2020. The second order provides that, subject to certain exceptions, all proceedings in the courts of this state are to be conducted via remote audio-video technology if practicable. The third order postpones Supreme Court oral arguments that had been scheduled for March 30th and April 1st. The fourth order temporarily allows court reporters to take depositions remotely, outside the physical presence of a witness, and will last until April 30.

    In the Legislature

    In Capitol news, the Wisconsin Senate has postponed its final session (which was slated to happen this week), and is currently rehearsing for the possibility of an unprecedented “virtual session,” should it be necessary. There is no word yet on when that session might take place, but in addition to outstanding business, it is anticipated that lawmakers will take up legislation to respond to the emerging public health and economic needs of Wisconsin. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R – Rochester) and Senate Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R – Juneau) have indicated that they are awaiting final passage of the federal coronavirus response bill to determine what needs are left to be met by state efforts.

    State Bar Response and Resources

    The State Bar center in Madison is and will remain closed to members and the public during the duration of the executive order, and its staff are working from home. The Board of Governors Meeting scheduled for April 17 will be held virtually.

    Members are invited to attend a series of free virtual town hall meeting forums, held every weekday until April 3, covering various areas of practice affected by the turn of events.

    While the State Bar continues its operations from remote locations, State Bar members can continue to lean on us for the services and support you need, including our Practice411Ethics Hotline, and WisLAP services.

    In addition, here are some Coronavirus-related resources to help you through the challenges ahead:

    • WisBar’s Coronavirus webpage for the latest State Bar and court announcements related to the legal community’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • series of free virtual town hall meeting forums, every weekday from March 23 to April 3, covering various areas of practice affected by the turn of events.
    • The need for timely information analyzing the legal issues surrounding this virus is never more important. In response, your State Bar is developing timely CLE programming and publishing a new Coronavirus & the Law blog and other information to keep you up to date.

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