Monday, March 16, 2020
Message from Chief Judge Spraker Regarding Upcoming Bankruptcy Hearings in the District of Alaska
The U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Alaska have been monitoring the national and state and local responses to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak and its potential impact on our communities. The District Court has entered the attached Miscellaneous General Order 20-06 in response. As noted in the General Order, the President of the United States has declared a public health emergency in response to the spread of the COVID-19 virus and the Governor of the State of Alaska has declared a public health emergency throughout the state. To assist with the protection of public health, the District Court has suspended all civil and criminal trials scheduled to commence as of today, March 16, 2020. While the provisions of the order addressing criminal matters and jury trials do not apply to our situation, the Miscellaneous Order also provides that “[i]ndividual judges may continue to hold hearings, conferences, and bench trials in the exercise of their discretion, consistent with this order.”
As of now, the bankruptcy court shall continue to hear the matters previously scheduled. However, the District Court has also issued its Temporary General Order Regarding Restrictions on Visitors to the Courthouse. A copy of this order is also attached. It generally provides that the following persons not enter any courthouse in Alaska that have (1) traveled to countries subject to Level Two or Three travel health notices issued by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), (2) those or live with, or have close contact with such persons, anyone asked to self quarantine by a doctor, hospital, or health agency, (3) have been diagnosed with, or have had contact with, COVID-19, or (4) have apparent symptoms of COVID-19 such as fever, severe cough, or shortness of breath. These restrictions apply to entry into the bankruptcy court.
In light of this, common sense suggests that all such hearings that can, should be conducted telephonically to mitigate the risks of spreading the coronavirus disease. We have long used telephonic appearances within the Bankruptcy Court. For the most part, expanding our use of telephonic appearances will cause little disruption to the administration of our cases. Other districts are adopting more detailed procedures and orders for addressing the coronavirus disease. We may eventually need to do so, but the court has reviewed the upcoming calendar and believes that at the moment we can manage appearances and the calendar in the near term without adopting specific procedures or orders. This, of course, may change.
Towards this end, the clerks’ office will attempt to contact counsel or pro se parties participating in the Chapter 13 calendars for this Wednesday, March 18, 2020, as well as the next Chapter 13 calendar to be held on April 1, 2020, to arrange for telephonic participation. With one possible exception, there are no matters that are scheduled for presentation of evidence during these dates. The court strongly suggests that counsel and parties attend the hearings on the scheduled matters telephonically. The court shall continue to monitor the situation as it develops locally and nationally, to determine if any further actions may be required after the April 15, 2020 calendar.
During this time, the court shall relax the requirement for three days notice to arrange telephonic participation. However, I urge you to contact the court to arrange telephonic participation at your earliest convenience for any matter through April 15, 2020.
Please review the bankruptcy court website at akb.uscourts.gov for instructions on participating by telephone. Please also visit the court’s website for further information regarding further actions concerning the bankruptcy court and the upcoming calendars as this is a fluid and developing situation.