BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – The surge in COVID cases moved the 18th Judicial Circuit chief judge to issue an administrative order re-implementing a mask mandate for all visitors — from lawyers to courthouse deputies and jailhouse inmates — entering Brevard’s court facilities.
Brevard-Seminole Chief Judge Jessica Recksiedler issued the order last week following a judicial meeting and after getting input from jurists in both counties. It took effect Friday.
Seminole County judges, however, voted to exclude their county from the order because COVID has not grown as prevalent in the courthouses there as it has in Brevard where hospitals are coping with large numbers of cases, according to reporting from News 6′s news partner Florida Today.
The administrative order, which impacts anyone working in the courthouse, also means all court hearings and cases, with the exception of criminal trials, that can be teleconferenced will be allowed to be. Social distancing will also be enforced, although masks are not mandatory in secured areas such as an office.
The order has riled Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey, who said he asked his legal team if he was bound to enforce the judicial mandate and why the order impacts Brevard and not Seminole County.
“Masks are once again mandatory in all public areas of Brevard County courthouses,” said Michelle Kennedy, spokesperson for Brevard County Court Administration in a public tweet last week.
“Chief Judge Jessica Recksiedler announced the decision (Wednesday) after meeting with Brevard judges. Social distancing guidelines remain in place. Masks will be provided for those who do not have them.”
Brevard’s three primary courthouses include the Historic Titusville Courthouse in Titusville, the Harry and Harriette Moore Justice Center in Viera, and the Melbourne Courthouse. Hundreds of visitors go through the courthouse daily, including those called for jury selection and also inmates brought in from the Brevard County Jail Complex in Sharpes.
Ivey spoke about the issue Monday after being contacted by Florida Today.
Ivey went before a Space Coast Daily camera feed in front of the Moore Justice Center to say he was in “full opposition” to the mandate portion of the order from the judiciary. He also said what he thought Brevard’s judges, who operate under a separate branch of government as outlined in the Florida Constitution, should do as a solution to the latest deadly wave of the surge.
“Me personally, I think the better course of action is to allow the judges to control the courtroom and to allow our citizens to make good common-sense decisions. Our citizens know they need to self-check themselves. They know if they want to get vaccinated or not,” said Ivey, who is considered an officer of the court.
Ivey repeatedly asked why Brevard courthouses should have a mask mandate and not Seminole County.
Brevard County reported 4,588 cases in the latest week, including several in the law enforcement community.
Since the coronavirus pandemic began it has reported 65,068 cases and 914 deaths. Friday, a Palm Bay police officer died from COVID and the week before, a former court deputy.
COVID numbers at the jail, which houses up to 1,500 inmates including those who are transported to the jail or bonded out, are not known, despite inquiries.
The Brevard County Sheriff’s Office oversees transporting inmates from the county jail to the courthouse for hearings and trials along with court deputy services at the county courthouses.
Public Defender Blaise Trettis also questioned the order.
“It’s really unclear how it’s going to be put into operation at this point. This morning there was a self-check thermometer and a box of masks at the front desk at the courthouse. It doesn’t seem as if it was thought out that much,” Trettis said.
Trettis also called it ‘odd’ that the order mandating masks applies to Brevard but not Seminole County.
“There should be uniformity across the state,” he said.