Virginia courts under state of emergency

Mike Still • Mar 19, 2020 at 12:14 PM

RICHMOND — The Virginia Supreme Court has declared a 21-day state of emergency for all state courts.

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald W. Lemons on Monday suspended all “non-essential, non-emergency” court proceedings in all circuit and district courts from Monday until April 6.

Lemons’ order continues all civil, traffic and criminal cases except for emergency matters including quarantine or isolation, arraignments, bail reviews, protective orders, emergency child custody or protection cases and civil commitment hearings.

All ceremonies, including presenting driver’s licenses to juveniles, will be continued, Lemons said.

In Wise County, some emergency courthouse procedures were started last week. Wise County and Norton Commonwealth’s Attorney Chuck Slemp III on Friday announced new office hours and court system procedures to limit coronavirus spread or exposure. Office hours will be Monday-Thursday 9-11:30 a.m. and 1-3 p.m. and Friday, 9-11:30 a.m. until further notice.

Wise County Administrator Mike Hatfield on Thursday said people coming to the courthouse were being sent home if they answered yes to showing a fever, cough or shortness of breath.

Courtroom proceedings that cannot be continued will have attendance limited to attorneys, parties to the case, necessary witnesses and the press. In the case of jury trials that cannot be continued, judges will excuse or postpone jury service for jurors who are ill, caring for someone ill or who are in a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-defined high-risk category.

Orientations for new jurors have also been suspended under Lemons’ order, and attorneys are required to use electronic filings if available.

When a defendant fails to appear in court, judges will now issue summonses instead of capias warrants.

Lemons also ordered that people with legitimate court business who are ill, caring for someone ill or who are in a CDC-defined high-risk category to call local court clerks or court personnel to ask for an “appropriate accommodation.”

Judges are also ordered to check with the sheriff and locality about signage advising people not to enter the court building if they have:

• Visited any CDC-identified high-risk country in the previous 14 days, including China, South Korea or any European countries.

• Traveled within the U.S. where COVID-19 has seen widespread community transmission.

• Been asked to self-quarantine, isolate or self-monitor by any doctor, hospital or health agency.

• Been diagnosed with or had contact with anyone diagnosed with COVID-19.

• A fever, cough or shortness of breath.

• Resided or been in close contact with anyone in the above categories.

Lemons also allowed court bailiffs or security to deny entry to people violating the health protocols of his order and to send them to the court clerk’s office for further instructions.

Judges can also consult with local sheriff’s departments and bailiffs about preventing groups from congregating anywhere in courthouses and to enforce social distancing in the courthouse and courtrooms.

Judges also are ordered to use video or telephonic technology to conduct all necessary hearings, trials, arraignments and other matters.

Lemons’ order allows chief circuit and district judges to make other local policies as needed. The emergency order can be extended, by a majority Supreme Court vote, for additional periods of up to 21 days or for “the duration of the threat.”

All General District Court clerks’ offices in the 30th Judicial Circuit — covering Wise, Lee, and Scott counties and the city of Norton — moved to a reduced public access schedule Monday: 9:30-11:30 a.m. and 1:30-3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Clerks can still be reached by phone during normal business hours.

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