Federal judge tells lawyers he will issue COVID-19 vaccine orders for his courtroom

By: - September 1, 2021 2:29 pm
Gavel courtroom sitting vacant

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Citing the rapidly spreading delta variant of the coronavirus, a Milwaukee-based federal judge told lawyers Wednesday he will issue orders requiring anyone who appears in his courtroom to provide proof of a COVID-19 vaccine.

“There is an increasing risk that legal proceedings will be interrupted by COVID-19 infections, as judicial staff, case participants, or jury members find themselves under quarantine requireements,” wrote Judge J.P. Stadtmueller in a model order that his office distributed to lawyers and other court officials, including judges, late Wednesday morning. “Given the high rates of severe disease among non-vaccinated individuals, these interruptions carry the potential of becoming extremely lengthy and potentially interminable.”

The judge’s order will require “all attorneys, parties, and necessary witnesses to submit proof of vaccination” within 14 days before an in-person appearance. It also will bar members of the public from entering the courtroom unless they have proof they are fully vaccinated. Unvaccinated observers “may listen to proceedings by telephone,” the order template states, but they must contact the judge’s office 24 hours in advance to make arrangements.

Attorneys, parties and witnesses who claim a medical reason for not being vaccinated will be required to provide an exemption letter at least two weeks in advance, the model order states. The letter must explain “the exact medical necessity” and must be signed by a board-certified physician. They also must provide a negative COVID-19 test report up to 24 hours before the court proceeding and wear a mask.

Everyone entering the courtroom will be required to certify that they have not tested positive for COVID-19 in the previous 10 days, have not been exposed to COVID-19 or to anyone who has had to quarantine due to exposure to the virus in the previous 10 days, and have not experienced symptoms of an infection.

“Given the virulence of the Delta variant, all people will be required to wear masks covering nose and mouth at all times, unless speaking directly to the Court,” Stadtmueller’s model order states.

Anyone with a case before the court who cannot meet the order’s requirements because a lawyer, witness or a party is not vaccinated can seek an adjournment, the model order states. It requires the adjournment motion to identify by name everyone to be vaccinated and the dates in which they will receive their shots. The motion can be sealed.

In an email message to lawyers, Stadtmueller’s clerk states that the order would be filed with all criminal cases and any civil case going to trial in his court.

Stadtmueller’s model order cites an Aug. 25 order from the federal Seventh Circuit requiring lawyers appearing in person before the appeals court to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Federal court clerk officials told the Wisconsin Examiner that they were not aware of any other vaccine mandates being issued in the federal courts in Milwaukee or Madison.


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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.