Court Operations during the COVID-19 Outbreak: Information about Hearings, Filings and Operations

Release Date: 
Thu, 07/01/2021

Updated July 1, 2021

Reopening of Courthouses and Resumption of In-Person Proceedings

The Bankruptcy Court for the W.D. of Washington has entered General Order 21-03, providing for the resumption of in-person bankruptcy proceedings at the discretion of the assigned judge. The General Order follows U.S. District Court Order 10-21, which provides for the reopening of the courthouses to the public.

Reopening to the Public: Effective July 1, 2021, the Seattle and Tacoma federal courthouses will be open to the public with some restrictions as set forth in the District Court Order. Fully vaccinated individuals will not be required to wear a face covering or socially distance while in the courthouse. Individuals who are not fully vaccinated are required to wear a face covering and maintain 6 feet of social distance. All persons are asked not to enter the courthouses if they have been diagnosed with Covid-19 or have experienced any Covid-19 symptoms in the past 10 days. Maximum occupancy restrictions and specified traffic patterns are no longer necessary in the courthouses. 

In-Person Proceedings at the Discretion of the Assigned JudgeAs stated in General Order 21-03, effective July 1, 2021, at the discretion of the assigned judge, evidentiary hearings and trials may be conducted in person. Further, effective August 1, 2021, again at the discretion of the assigned judge, regularly scheduled motions calendars may be conducted in person. Telephonic appearances are to be requested in writing. Health and safety restrictions applicable in an individual courtroom are set at the discretion of the assigned judge. Parties are directed to the chambers procedures page of the assigned judge for further information as to each judge's preference in terms of in-person proceedings and telephonic appearance procedures. Please check the procedures pages frequently as information is being updated regularly. Hearings to be conducted in person should be noted in ECF using the appropriate Judge and courtroom location.

Clerks' Office OperationsThe Clerk's offices in Seattle and Tacoma will resume providing in-person services at their intake counters effective August 1, 2021. Clerk's office staff continue to be available during business hours by phone, ECF help email and online chat(link is external). Unrepresented parties may file paper pleadings using the drop boxes located in the lobby of each courthouse. Parties are encouraged to make online payments, or send a money order or certified funds to the Clerk's office by mail.

Telephonic Proceedings: For telephonic proceedings prior to August 1, 2021, information for telephonic proceedings can be found on each judge's procedures page, or below.

Judge Heston's Telephonic Hearings:

Dial: 1-888-363-4749
Enter Access code: 5635947#
Press # sign
Enter the Security Code when prompted: 3887#
Name: Speak your name when prompted

Judge Lynch's Telephonic Hearings:
Dial: 1-888-363-4749
Enter Access code: 5974828#
Press # sign
Enter the Security Code when prompted: 8109#
Name: Speak your name when prompted

Guidelines
(1) Use a land line phone and not a cell phone, if possible.
(2) Do not use a speaker phone.
(3) Make the call from a quiet area where background noise is minimal.
(4) Wait until the judge calls your case before speaking.
(5) Please clearly state your name each time you speak
(6) Do not put the phone on hold at any time after the call is connected

 

  • U.S. TRUSTEE PROGRAM EXTENDS TELEPHONIC OR VIDEO SECTION 341 MEETINGS

The U.S. Trustee Program has extended the requirement that section 341 meetings be conducted by telephone or video appearance to all cases filed during the period of the President's "Proclamation on Declaring a National Emergency Concerning the Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Outbreak" issued March 13, 2020, and ending on the date that is 60 days after such declaration terminates. However, the U.S. Trustee may approve a request by a trustee in a particular case to continue the section 341 meeting to an in-person meeting in a manner that complies with local public health guidance, if the U.S. Trustee determines that an in-person examination of the debtor is required to ensure the completeness of the meeting or the protection of estate property.This policy may be revised at the discretion of the Director of the United States Trustee Program.
 

  • Temporary Electronic Filing Option for Parties Without an Attorney

Given the limited access to the courthouses and other filing challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the court has made available the following temporary electronic filing option for parties without an attorney (debtors and creditors). Such parties may use this service to submit documents for filing with the court. In most instances, documents will be processed within 24 hours or by the next business day. New case filings may not receive a case number until the next business day. If this is an emergency case filing or time sensitive documents needed for a hearing, please call the court at 206-370-5200(Seattle) or 253-882-3900 (Tacoma) during regular business hours.
 

  • ECF Event for Notice of Mortgage Forbearance

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”),  includes provisions that allow borrowers experiencing a financial hardship directly or indirectly due to the COVID-19 emergency to request a forbearance on their mortgages. Accordingly, a new event has been created in CM/ECF, entitled Notice of Mortgage Forbearance. The new event is located under Bankruptcy Events → Claim Actions.  In addition to the new Mortgage Forbearance Events, changes have been made to the events Notice of Mortgage Payment Change (No Proof of Claim Filed) and Notice of Mortgage Payment Change.  These last two events have been modified to include internal logic to ensure that forbearance notices are filed correctly. These three new or modified events will be live in ECF on Monday, May 11. Those filers who have been using generic events to docket forbearance notices are asked to use the appropriate new event.

  •  Signature Requirements   

The Court has entered a general order adopting interim procedures to clarify the need for a physical signature under Local Bankruptcy Rule 5005-1(d)(2). General Order 2020-3 allows ECF filers to use digital software and other alternatives to demonstrate a signor's consent to a document prior to its electronic filing.