All information in this COVID-19 Response Resource issue is effective as of May 18, 2020.

In light of Governor Bullock’s phased reopening plan and the success Montana has had limiting the spread of COVID-19, Montana courts are slowly beginning to reopen for civil cases. Below are the details of the current operations of Montana’s state and federal courts as of May 18, 2020:

State Courts:

  • On April 27, 2020, Chief Justice McGrath of the Montana Supreme Court issued a memorandum extending the prior restrictions through at least May 4, 2020.
  • Although a more recent memorandum has not yet been issued, it is likely one will be issued soon.
  • Currently, Montana state courts must continue to use remote-hearing or telephonic hearings for most cases. Attorneys or litigants who are considered “high risk” should be allowed to appear remotely if they request that accommodation.
  • Social distancing pursuant to CDC guidelines must be maintained in all courthouses, courtrooms and offices.
  • Each individual district within the state can set their own restrictions and guidelines with the emphasis social distancing.
  • Civil jury trials are allowed to move forward but must “be conducted in such a manner as to maintain social distance and protect the health of jurors and others” in the buildings. This includes excusing jurors who may be high risk or lack appropriate childcare, calling jurors in smaller groups for voir dire and limiting any in-court spectators.

Federal Courts:

  • Beginning May 18, 2020, the five (5) federal district court courthouses in Montana will have limited reopening of courthouses under Phase 2 of the District of Montana’s plan.
  • Judicial preference will dictate whether civil hearings are held remotely or in person, provided social distancing requirements can be met.
  • Jury trials can proceed beginning in June 2020 with more information forthcoming. At this time, the court is relying heavily on pre-screening of jurors before they enter the courthouse for voir dire.
  • The overall plan for reopening has a total of five (5) phases with a minimum of fourteen (14) days spent in each phase before entering Phase 4. Phase 5, or the final phase, will be a resumption of normal operations with no restrictions and will only occur upon a “[p]ublic health announcement that COVID-19 has been suppressed within the United States.”