PROVIDENCE -- Grand jury proceedings may begin as early as Monday, eviction proceedings can be heard by June 1, and trials may commence by August, under a new executive order issued Friday by R.I. Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul A. Suttell.
The order marks the first step toward reopening Rhode Island’s court system, since Suttell’s first emergency order on March 17 suspended the court calendars and closed the courthouses to all but emergency matters.
Since then, there have been no jury trials, no grand juries, no process for evictions, and nearly all of the courthouses were completely closed.
Although the order extends some emergency measures to June 1, this is the judiciary’s first “toe in the water,” as Rhode Island reopens.
Starting Monday, members of a statewide grand jury that had been meeting before the pandemic will resume their work, said judiciary spokesman Craig Berke.
“They’ve been contacted, and enough of them are willing to come back,” Berke said.
Time is essential -- under Rhode Island law, the state has six months to bring an indictment in certain felony cases, or the charges can be dismissed. Attorney General Peter Neronha has been anxious for the grand jury to resume.
The grand jury will be meeting in a larger conference room at the Noel Judicial Complex, in Warwick, that has enough room for physical distancing, he said.
However, the judiciary is not convening county grand juries.
Emergency and essential matters for Family Court and District Court are still heard in Providence, at the Garrahy Judicial Complex, and for Superior Court at the Licht Judicial Complex. The McGrath Judicial Complex in South Kingstown and the Murray Judicial Complex in Newport will remain closed until Sept. 8.
Under Suttell’s order, only capital cases, domestic violence, violent crimes, drunk driving, and fugitive from justice cases are considered emergencies, along with charges relating to violations of executive orders under the state of emergency, such as breaking quarantine.
In-person bench trials may begin June 1, and criminal and civil jury trials may start by Aug. 1.
Evictions may be filed starting on June 1. Proceedings had been suspended during the emergency order. Berke said that District Court Chief Judge Jeanne E. LaFazia had convened a working group of various stakeholders to determine how they will proceed.
While the judiciary has been using technology for arraignments and hearings during the emergency, the courts will begin to increase in-person hearings at the courthouses, though using social-distancing standards in the hallways and in the courtrooms.