By Administrative Judge David D. King
The COVID email boxes, as they are colloquially known, were created when Governor Sununu’s Stay at Home Order took effect. At that time, all New Hampshire residents were expected to remain in place except for essential business and emergencies. Circuit Court locations were open in-person for constitutionally-required or emergency filings and hearings; other business was conducted remotely or paused altogether. To the Circuit Court, these extraordinary circumstances necessitated developing a process for people who could not come to the courthouse or print out and file documents in advance to be able to file motions and documents necessary to move their case forward. The COVID email boxes were intended to provide access to justice.
Since the implementation of the Governor’s subsequent Safer at Home Order, the Court has restarted many additional case types or hearings within case types. Most hearings are still remote, for the sake of de-densifying courthouses. In addition, all court rules—including all document exchange and filing timelines—are now in effect, unless waived by a judge. This reduces the public’s need to use the COVID email boxes, as most filings should occur many days before the hearing and as many people can now access post offices, printers, etc. without substantial restrictions. Additional hearings increase the need for court staff to be managing court events rather than monitoring an email box that was intended for limited use.
Thus, the Circuit Court wants to remind the Bar of the appropriate use of the COVID email boxes. The email boxes are to be used only for emergency filings, filings related to emergency hearings, or filings that could not have been obtained and filed prior to a hearing (e.g., a return of service that was completed a day before a hearing, a proposed sentencing order newly reached in a plea agreement, an essential report from a provider in a juvenile case). A judge may authorize additional uses for the email boxes at her/his discretion to serve justice in particular cases, being mindful of the additional work it creates for the limited court staff available at each courthouse location.
All other filings, including exhibits and other documents needing to be exchanged with the other side, should be filed via U.S. mail or delivered to the physical dropbox available at each courthouse security screening. The Court expects this will be the vast majority of filings. Clarifying the intended usage and, where necessary, restricting filings to the COVID email boxes will allow these inboxes to remain viable communication avenues for essential court access in these complicated times.