Pennsylvania Courts – Covid-19 Update
In the midst of these unusual times, Petitioners, Civil Rights Defense Firm, P.C., Firearms Policy Coalition, Inc., Prince Law Offices, P.C., Trop Gun Shop Ltd., and Roger Mullins, filed a Petitioners’ Emergency Ex Parte Application for Extraordinary Relief Pursuant to the Court’s King’s Bench Jurisdiction, against Governor Tom Wolf. In that application, the Petitioners challenged the constitutionality of the Governor’s March 19, 2020 Order, which ordered all businesses that were not life-sustaining to be closed. In response, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania Middle District held on March 22, 2020, “With respect to those Petitioners alleging that the Governor’s March 19 Order infringes on this Court’s exclusive authority to regulate the practice of law, or otherwise interferes with this Court’s orders declaring a statewide judicial emergency…, the Application is DISMISSED AS MOOT.” The Order further states, “Although the Governor’s March 19 Order provides that businesses performing “Legal Services” must cease physical operations, he subsequently added the following proviso: ‘Except as required to allow attorneys to participate in court functions deemed essential by a president judge per the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's order of March 18, 2020, or similar federal court directive, and lawyers may access their offices to effectuate such functions and directives.’”
In a concurring and dissenting statement, Justice Wecht agreed that the clarification on the ability to perform legal services was needed. Justice Wecht wrote separately concerning the deprivation of a constitutional right: the right to sell firearms. Justice Wecht stated that the right of licensed firearm dealers conducting physical operations is one guaranteed by both the United States Constitution and the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This is an area of retail that cannot be conducted “merely by way of telecommunication and mailing under existing law.” Justice Wecht went on his opinion to state, “Quite simply, if firearm dealers are not able to conduct any business in-person at their licensed premises, then no transfers of firearms can be completed. This amounts to an absolute and indefinite prohibition upon the acquisition of firearms by the citizens of this Commonwealth—a result in clear tension with the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 21 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.” Justice Wecht, along with Justice Donohue and Justice Dougherty, agree that some type of accommodation should be made for the transfer of firearms, so a fundamental constitutional right is not imposed.
On March 21, 2020, Governor Wolf granted the Department of State’s request to suspend the requirement for physical presence of notaries who are court reporters/stenographers participating in criminal, civil and administrative proceedings in Pennsylvania. During this statewide judicial emergency, in-person depositions, arbitrations, hearings, and other proceedings are cancelled for the time-being, but can be held via phone conference, videoconference, or web deposition if a court reporter could participate remotely. Pursuant to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, court reporters are notaries public, who in turn are officers authorized to administer oaths or affirmations, among other notarial acts. Current Pennsylvania law requires notarial acts, even those performed electronically with respect to electronic records, to be done in the physical presence of the notary. As such, Governor Wolf temporarily approved the request to suspend the physical presence of notaries who are court reporters or stenographers participating in criminal, civil and administrative proceedings.
This allows certain judicial proceedings to continue, so long as a court reporter could participate in the proceeding remotely. This temporary in-person suspension will conclude at the end of the disaster emergency.
The information in this Client Alert is provided solely for information purposes. It should not be construed as legal advice on any specific matter and is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship. The information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based upon particular circumstances. Each legal matter is unique, and prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.
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