UPDATE: The Supreme Court of Virginia on March 27 announced the judicial emergency declaration due to the coronavirus pandemic will remain in effect through April 26.
Earlier: Virginia courts have been ordered to halt all non-emergency proceedings for at least three weeks in response to the coronavirus outbreak, effectively putting a pause on thousands of trials as well as eviction and debt- collection lawsuits.
The sweeping emergency order, issued March 16 by Chief Justice Donald Lemons of the Supreme Court of Virginia at the request of Gov. Ralph Northam, postpones virtually all civil, traffic and criminal cases heard in state courts until after April 6.
“This Order declaring a judicial emergency is hereby issued for all district and circuit courts of the Commonwealth to protect the health and safety of court employees, litigants, judges, and the general public,” Lemons wrote.
The order exempts cases facing “speedy trial” deadlines and emergency proceedings, including quarantine matters, arraignments, bail reviews, protective order cases, emergency child custody or protection cases and civil commitment hearings.
The broad court action comes amid an increase in confirmed coronavirus cases in Virginia. The Virginia Department of Health as of March 24 confirmed 290 cases in Virginia and seven deaths related to the virus.
State courts in the Lynchburg region will remain open under the order, but officials are asking only those with essential business to enter courthouses. Some courts plan to use video conferencing to conduct bail hearings and other matters, including general district courts located in the Lynchburg region.
“We’re trying to do what we can so we don’t put anybody at risk,” Chief Judge Sam Eggleston III, of the Lynchburg, Amherst and Nelson general district courts, said. “It’s a new thing for everybody. I don’t know anybody who has had to live through anything like this before.”
Lemons’ order came the same day U.S. District Court Judge Michael Urbanski, the chief federal judge in western Virginia, also postponed in-person proceedings in criminal, civil and bankruptcy cases.
Federal courthouses in the Western District, which includes Lynchburg, will keep their doors open to accept non-electronic filings, according to the March 16 order. All in-person federal hearings scheduled this month, however, have been postponed and all criminal and civil trials will be suspended until after April 30.