COVID-19 Office Policy Updates

Until further notice, Harris Law is implementing the following policies:

  

1. All in-person appointments and meeting are hereby suspended until further notice. 

2. All court appointments will be handled as set forth in the May 4, 2020 Supreme Court Order (appendix 9 and appendix 10). Clients will be directly notified of their need to attend.  

3. Appointments may be held via phone conference.  

4. Payments may be received by mail, at the office via the drop slot in the front door, or by phone via credit card. Receipts will be mailed or emailed to the client.  

5. Documents may be received by mail, at the office via the drop slot in the front door, or online through the secure MyCase client portal. 

6. Documents that require notarization must be done in the presence of a notary. Harris Law will set office meetings by appointment for execution of documents that require notarizing. Documents can be signed in the presence of a Harris Law notary and inserted into the drop slot in the front door of the office. This does not prevent persons from obtaining notarization from other sources, such as a bank.  

7. All other sworn documents may be executed electronically as determined by the Oath Order of March 25, 2020 (appendix 5).    

8. Harris Law will be operating with a reduced staff throughout the week and although we will be present at the office during regular hours, we will have the door locked.  

Disclosure

  

These guidelines and policies are subject to updates and changes without notice, they are designed to help provide clarity to operations and are not intended to cease representation or create obstacles. We are happy to reconsider any of the provisions on a case by cases basis. Please contact our office to discuss those matters further.  

Local Updates

Greene and Christian County Missouri Updates on Court related COVID-19 impacts.

Appendix 10

On May 4, 2020 the Missouri Supreme Court entered an Order implementing Operational Directives to local Courts. This is a phase progression order that provides clarity on procedures based off the phase each region is designated at. It further provides presiding Judges or each area to make the Orders based off designated criteria. For complete information view the Operational Directives in the Appendix 10 attachment below, or click below for a summary of each phase.

Appendix 9

On May 4, 2020 the Missouri Supreme Court entered an Order implementing Operational Directives to local Courts. This Order allows each circuit to address the diverse needs of the state by region while still adhering to a uniform set of COVID-19 safeguards.

Appendix 8

On April 17, 2020 the Missouri Supreme Court issued a new statewide order in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Among other directives, the order suspends – with certain listed exceptions – all in-person proceedings in all state courts through May 15, 2020 and authorizes local courts to determine the manner in which the listed exceptions should be conducted. 

Appendix 7

On April 1, 2020 the Missouri Supreme Court issued a new statewide order in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Among other directives, the order suspends – with certain listed exceptions – all in-person proceedings in all state courts through May 1, 2020 and authorizes local courts to determine the manner in which the listed exceptions should be conducted. 

Appendix 1

On March 20, 2020 the Christian County Circuit Court issued a new local order related to writs of restitution, replevin, attachment, and any other writ of execution in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Among other directives, the order delays the issuing of writs and Orders the sheriff to refrain from executing pending writs.  

Appendix 3

On March 23, 2020 the Christian County Circuit Court issued a new local order clarifying Parenting Plans in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Among other directives, the order clarifies that Parenting Plans that reference school calendars as a way of determining a visitation schedule shall operate from the published school calendar. Additionally, COVID-19 school closures shall not affect custody and visitation. 

Appendix 4

On March 24, 2020 the Christian County Circuit Court issued a new local order providing guidance to criminal defense counsel in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Among other directives, the order develops procedures for in-custody meetings, bond hearings, and pleas. 

Appendix 5

On March 25, 2020 the Court issued a statewide order regarding administering of oaths.  

Appendix 6

On March 25, 2020 the Christian County Commission issued at “Stay at Home Order” which requires, among other things, that all non-essential activities, businesses, and operations to cease within the County except the daily operations of the essential activities and businesses. 

Surrounding Areas

PLEASE NOTE THAT GREENE COUNTY (AND OTHER CIRCUITS) HAS IMPLEMENTED SIMILAR ORDERS AS THE CHRISTIAN COUNTY ORDERS REFERENCED ABOVE. 

Operational Directives Phase Summaries

Summaries

  

On May 4, 2020 the Missouri Supreme Court entered an Order implementing Operational Directives to local Courts. This Order allows each circuit to address the diverse needs of the state by region while still adhering to a uniform set of COVID-19 safeguards.


Phase Zero: This is the phase we are currently in and it calls for a suspension of all in-person Court proceedings, except for a few matters of an urgent manner. This phase will remain in place until each local presiding Judge decides to phase up to Phase One. Phase One is not allowed to begin until the expiration of the April 17, 2020 Order suspending Court proceedings until May 15, 2020.


Phase One: This phase will slightly loosen restrictions and allow Courts to resume the most critical in-person proceedings. Grand jury and petit jury proceedings are restricted “to only the most extraordinary, pressing, and urgent cases”. Common areas and break rooms will be closed. Other areas in the court facility are limited to 10 or less people. There may be requirements related to masks, social distancing markers, and screening. 


Phase Two: This phase will not begin until the local presiding Judge has completed fourteen (14) days under Phase One and entered an Order that Phase Two will begin. This phase will slightly loosen restrictions from Phase One and allows Courts to increase the in-person proceedings that will resume. Grand jury and petit jury proceedings are restricted “to only the most extraordinary, pressing, and urgent cases”. Common areas and break rooms will be closed. Other areas in the court facility are limited to 25 or less people. There may be requirements related to masks, social distancing markers, and screening.


Phase Three: This phase will not begin until the local presiding Judge has completed fourteen (14) days under Phase Two and entered an Order that Phase Three will begin. This phase will resume in-person proceedings, including grand jury and petit jury proceedings. Common areas and break rooms will open under social distancing protocols. Requirements related to screening might be terminated, but requirements related to masks and social distancing markers may remain in place. There will be no increase from Phase Three until the May 4, 2020 Order implementing these phases has been rescinded or amended.


All phases include additional restrictions related to increased use of sanitation, social distancing, employee distancing, accommodations, and restrictions for “vulnerable” individuals, etc… Communication, teleconferencing, and video conferencing is encouraged to limit court appearances. 

The Missouri Supreme Court entered an Order implementing Operational Directives to local Courts.

All phases include additional restrictions related to increased use of social distancing. 

The graph shows the impact COVID-19 has on our court system.
Missouri Courts Impact

COVID-19

The spread of the Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a significant public health concern with the potential to affect daily operations in the Missouri court system. The uncertainty created by this virus has left everyone asking, “what do I do?”


Here are some updates and guidelines that may help.

Co-parenting during COVID-19

Co-parenting during COVID-19

Balancing Act

 Parents are currently dealing with problems they have never faced nor expected. Restrictions on contact, travel, and overall fear of illness have made good co-parenting relationships stressed and bad co-parenting relationships explosive. The fact is parenting plans are not designed to address the impact of COVID-19. The uncertainty created by this virus has left everyone asking, “what do I do?”  


Unfortunately, there is no good answer. Much like parenting, the law is not black and white. We live in a world of gray where every situation is different. Does a parent’s right to visitation under a parenting plan override another parent’s attempt to prevent exposure to illness? How does your answer change if you learn one of the parents has health problems, or has their elderly parent living in the home? Does it make a difference if one parent is at high risk to exposure, such as nurses and first responders? The facts of each case are crucial and will determine how a court might handle a violation of a Court Order. To make matters worse, enforcing a Court Order during COVID-19 may take months.  


The best way to handle the situation now is to make legal action your last resort. Instead, do your best to “do the right thing”. Doing what’s “right” is not always clear nor easy. During this time of uncertainty, it is crucial for parents to communicate with each other, engage in active listening, and empathize with the other parent’s situation. By developing solutions that work for your situation you can avoid legal action and focus on what is most important, your child.  


There is no doubt that the challenges parents face during COVID-19 are unexpected and difficult. However, as parents your primary responsibility is to your child. Extend grace and understanding to the other parent during this time of uncertainty. Set aside feelings of discomfort and animosity. Develop plans to allow compensatory parenting time in the future. Be generous and accommodating when offering solutions. Above all, do your best to “do the right thing.”  

Contempt of Court

How does this impact parents who cannot reach a solution?  Your only option may be to seek help from the Court.

CONTEMPT OF COURT

COVID-19 and the impact on your Court Order

 You be the Judge.


This game is simple. I give you a set of facts that involve an important legal decision a Court may be confronted with, and you decide what the outcome should be. Ready to play?


I am starting this game with an issue confronted by separated and divorced parent with children.


Facts: Pat and Kris divorced in 2018. The parties were given joint legal and joint physical custody of their minor child, Jordan [currently 8 years old]. Their parenting plan provides for a 50/50 visitation schedule. Pat will have parenting time from Monday until Wednesday, Kris will have from Wednesday until Friday, and they will alternate weekends Friday until Monday. Pat’s address is designated as the address for mailing and educational purposes. Kris is an RN and has arranged to only work on days that Pat has parenting time. Pat is a teacher at the school Jordan attends. Pat also suffers from asthma.


Problem: When the first case of COVID-19 hit locally Pat called Kris and indicated that visitation should stop temporarily. Pat was concerned that the high risk of exposure to COVID-19, that Kris has working at the hospital, will put Jordan and Pat at risk. Kris insisted that all precautions are being taken and that visitation should continue. Pat has refused.


Legal action: Kris has filed a “Contempt of Court” action. In Missouri a party may be found in “Contempt” of a Court Order if they knowingly violate a Court Order without “good cause”.


Question 1: Should Pat be in Contempt?


Question 2: Should visitation resume?


You be the Judge.

Click here for the Answer.

Click here for the Answer.

image10

COVID-19 Impacts on Court Delays

How does this impact parents who cannot reach a solution?

The graph above is a mirror image of the impact COVID-19 has on our healthcare system. However, this graph shows the impact as applied to our court system. As disputes over COVID-19 increase court filings, the ability to have your matter heard and ruled upon by a Judge decreases. To make matters worse, the availability of Courts and attorneys has also decreased causing the Court capacity line to lower. This means that you may go months waiting on a Court date. In the meantime, your child will go months without seeing a parent. 

What can I do?

The best way to handle the situation now is to make legal action your last resort. Instead, do your best to “do the right thing”. Doing what’s “right” is not always clear nor easy. During this time of uncertainty, it is crucial for parents to communicate with each other, engage in active listening, and empathize with the other parent’s situation. By developing solutions that work for your situation you can avoid legal action and focus on what is most important, your child.  

Answer - Contempt of Court

COVID-19 and the impact on your Court Order

How will the Court handle this? First, it will be many months before your “contempt” case is heard by a Judge. In the meantime, your child may go months without seeing a parent. Current Missouri Supreme Court Orders have suspended many Court dates until May 15, 2020, but there is no guarantee that things will resume at that point. However, assuming Pat eventually gets in front of a Judge, the Court will have a tough decision to make.

The 38th circuit has recently issued an order clarifying parenting plans during COVID-19 and there is a strong urging that parents continue to follow their Court Order. Stay at Home Orders mirror this position and statements from the Sheriff have also urged parents to comply as ordered.

I anticipate that the severity of the violation may increase the likelihood of a finding of contempt. A two-week pause on visitation is not as severe as a two-month denial. Failure to communicate or attempt to make a joint decision also increase the severity. A short denial of visitation may be deemed a violation of the order, but not contumacious. A long violation would almost certainly fail to meet the “good cause” exception, outside of additional information related to illness or testing. In the end, the Court will expect the Court Order to be followed, outside of new facts justifying the denial. Regardless of the Court’s official ruling on contempt, the Court would likely Order make-up time and warn the parties that further violations may include harsh relief available to the Court. 

Cares Act, what a small business needs to know about paycheck protection loans.

CARES ACT SUMMARY

What a small business needs to know about paycheck protection loans.

ATTENTION: IF YOU HAVE NOT APPLIED FOR YOUR LOAN YOU MAY BE TOO LATE.


This is the new paragraph (36) of 15 U.S.C section 636 related to aid to small businesses by the SBA.


Covered Loan: A loan made during the “covered period”. 


Covered Period: February 15, 2020 – June 30, 2020


Max Loan Amount: Two and one-half time the “payroll costs” of an average month in the one-year period prior to the requested loan.


Payroll Costs: The sum of payments of any payments to employees that is a salary, wage, or commission along with the payment of state and local taxes assessed on the compensation of employees.


Summary: The SBA is empowered to make loans for plant acquisition, construction, conversion, or expansion, including the acquisition of land, material, supplies, equipment, and working capital (along with other items), but are subject to restrictions set forth in paragraph 1 -35 and the new paragraph 36. In Paragraph 2 sub-section (F) was added that makes the SBA participation in Guaranteed Loans 100%. 


Loans under the Paycheck Protection Program are SBA-guaranteed loans and are made by a private lender and guaranteed up to 100 percent by the SBA, which helps reduce the lender's risk and helps the lender provide financing that's otherwise unavailable at reasonable terms. 


A lender approved to make loans shall be deemed to have been delegated authority by the SBA to make and approve covered loans. 


In determining “eligibility” for a “covered loan” the lender shall consider whether the borrower:


1. Was in operation on 2/15/20; and


2. Had employees they paid salaries and payroll taxes to (or paid independent contractors as reported on 1099-MISC).


The SBA will not have any recourse against any individual shareholder, member, or partner of a small business borrower, except to the extent the monies were used in a manner not authorized.


The SBA will not collect a “Guarantee Fee” (18)(A) or “Yearly Fee” (23)(A).


There is no preclusion to borrowers able to obtain credit elsewhere.


There is no personal guarantee or collateral required for loans. 


Loans that have a balance after the application of “Forgiveness” shall have a max maturity of 10 years.


Interest rates shall not exceed 4%.


Lenders are required to provide complete payment deferment for a period not less than six months (including payment of principal, interest, and fees), and not more than one year.

There are no pre-payment penalties.

Loan Forgiveness

Expected Forgiveness Amount: means the amount of principal that a lender reasonably expects a borrower to expend, in the eight-week period following the origination of the loan, on payroll costs, interests on mortgage obligations, payments on rent obligations, and utility payments. 

CARES ACT

Loan Forgiveness

Covered Loan: means a loan guaranteed under the Paycheck Protection Program.


Covered Period: Means the eight-week period beginning on the date of the origination of a covered loan.


Covered Rent Obligation: means rent obligated under a leasing agreement in force before 2/15/20.


Covered Utility Payment: means payment for a service for the distribution of electricity, gas, water, transportation, telephone, or internet access for which service began before February 15, 2020.


Payroll Costs: The sum of payments of any payments to employees that is a salary, wage, or commission along with the payment of state and local taxes assessed on the compensation of employees.


Expected Forgiveness Amount: means the amount of principal that a lender reasonably expects a borrower to expend, in the eight-week period following the origination of the loan, on payroll costs, interests on mortgage obligations, payments on rent obligations, and utility payments.


Summary: The borrower shall be eligible for forgiveness of indebtedness on a covered loan for the expected forgiveness amount.


Amounts “forgiven” shall be considered cancelled indebtedness by a lender.


No later than 90 days after the date on which the amount of forgiveness is determined, the SBA shall remit to the lender an amount equal to the amount of forgiveness, plus any interest accrued through the date of payment. 


Borrowers seeking “forgiveness” shall submit to the lender an application, which shall include:


1. Documents verifying the number of full-time employees on payroll and pay rates for the periods described (i.e. (1) payroll tax filings, and (2) state income, payroll, and unemployment insurance filings); and,


2. Documentation, including cancelled checks, payment receipts, transcripts of accounts, or other documents verifying payments on covered mortgage obligations, payments on covered lease obligations, and covered utility payments; and,


3. A certification from the borrower that the documentation is true and correct and that the requested forgiveness was used to retain employees, make interest payments on a covered mortgage obligation, make payments on a covered rent obligation, or make covered utility payments; and,


4. Any other documents the SBA determines necessary.

The lender shall issue a decision on loan “forgiveness” within 60 days of receiving an application for such from the borrower.


If a lender has received the documentation required from a borrower that attests that the borrower has accurately verified the payments for payroll costs, payments on covered mortgage obligations, payments on covered lease obligations, or covered utility payments during covered period, then an enforcement action may not be taken against the lender, by the Director of the Office of Credit Risk Management, relating to loan forgiveness, and the lender shall not be subject to any penalties by the SBA relating to loan forgiveness.


Any amount which would be included in gross income for the borrower by reason of forgiveness shall be excluded from gross income for tax reasons (IRS).


The cancellation of indebtedness on a covered loan shall not otherwise modify the terms and conditions of the covered loan.


The SBA will provide guidance and regulations on loan forgiveness within 30 days of the act. 

$349,000,000,000 has been appropriated toward the loans guaranteed under the Paycheck Protection Program.

The borrower shall be eligible for forgiveness of indebtedness on a covered loan.

The borrower shall be eligible for forgiveness of indebtedness on a covered loan.