Supreme Court of Virginia declares 'Judicial Emergency', delays certain cases

Posted at 7:37 PM, Mar 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-16 23:42:17-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia has declared a “judicial emergency” in response to the COVID-19 outbreak in the Commonwealth and is delaying many types of court cases as a result.

Chief Justice Donald W. Lemons issued the order on Monday staying he had received a request to do so from Virginia Governor Ralph Northam.

The declaration is issued for all district and circuit courts in Virginia.

The declaration runs from Monday, March 16 to Monday, April 6, 2020 and Lemons orders at non-essential, non-emergency court proceedings “in all circuit and district courts be and hereby are SUSPENDED and all deadlines are hereby tolled and extended, pursuant to Va. Code § 17.1-330(D), for a period of twenty-one (21) days”.

Lemons also ordered that all circuit and district courts “shall implement the following measures absent a specific exception as listed below:

1. Continue all civil, traffic and criminal matters, including jury trials, subject to a defendant’s right to a speedy trial, with the exception of emergency matters, including but not limited to, quarantine or isolation matters, arraignments, bail reviews, protective order cases, emergency child custody or protection cases, and civil commitment hearings. Judges may exercise their discretion with regard to proceeding with ongoing jury trials, and in cases where the defendant is incarcerated.

2. Continue all ceremonies, such as juvenile licensing ceremonies.

3. Limit courtroom attendance to attorneys, parties, and necessary witnesses and members of the press in any matters that cannot be continued.

4. Issue summonses in lieu of a capias for failure to appear.

5. For jury trials that cannot be continued, excuse or postpone jury service for jurors who are ill, caring for someone who is ill, or in a high-risk category as defined by the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

6. Suspend new juror orientations.

7. Require attorneys to use e-Filing if available.

8. Require individuals with legitimate court business who are ill, caring for someone who is ill, or is otherwise in a high-risk category, as defined by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), to call the local clerk of court or other appropriate court personnel to request an appropriate accommodation.

9. Consult with the locality, including the sheriff, about posting signage at all public entry points advising individuals not to enter the building if they have:

a. visited China, Iran, South Korea, any European countries, or any other high-risk countries identified by the CDC in the previous 14 days;

b. traveled domestically within the United States where COVID-19 has sustained widespread community transmission;

c. been asked to quarantine, isolate, or self-monitor by any doctor, hospital, or health agency;

d. been diagnosed with, or have had contact with anyone who has been diagnosed with, COVID-19;

e. a fever, cough, or shortness of breath; or

f. resided with or been in close contact with any person in the above-mentioned categories.

Individuals attempting to enter the court in violation of these protocols may be denied entrance by a bailiff or court security officer, and may be directed to contact the clerk’s office by telephone or other remote means to inform the clerk of their business before the court so as to receive further instruction regarding alternate arrangements for court access.

10. Consult with the sheriff and/or bailiffs to prohibit individuals or groups from congregating anywhere in the courthouse, and to require social distancing throughout the courthouse, including inside the courtroom.

11. Use telephonic or video technology, as provided in the Code of Virginia, for all necessary hearings, trials, or other matters, including arraignments.”

Lemons said nothing in this declaration “shall preclude the chief district and chief circuit judges from implementing additional local policies as needed.”

Lemons added that the courts and clerks’ offices should remain operational, providing essential services “while balancing the health and safety needs of court visitors and personnel.”