The Supreme Court of Virginia has added 20 more days to the judicial emergency status it declared earlier this month in response to COVID-19.
The initial order, which limited, modified or postponed most in-person state court hearings, will now be extended until April 26. It had previously been set to end April 6.
That extension will allow the court to more easily continue complying with the governor’s social distancing measure, which bans gatherings of more than 10 people.
On Monday, Gov. Ralph Northam further increased restrictive recommendations by putting in place a stay-at-home order, which urges citizens to avoid leaving their residences for non-vital errands and trips through June 10.
Many local courts actually went beyond the judicial emergency recommendations, which were first issued March 16.
In the 23rd Judicial District, which covers Roanoke County and the cities of Roanoke and Salem, courts remain open but most cases were suspended through April 10.
The judges in that district are due to discuss the new extension sometime this week, and it is expected they will match or exceed the new deadline.
In Montgomery County General District Court, a notice posted earlier this month said non-attorney criminal and traffic cases set through April 3 would be postponed, and a staffer in the clerk’s office said the plan is to postpone all of those cases past June 1.
Some other courts in the 27th Judicial Circuit — which extends from Montgomery through Pulaski, Giles, Floyd, Wythe, Grayson and Carroll counties and the cities of Radford and Galax — reported similar measures.
Pulaski County’s Circuit Court clerk said earlier this month that all hearings would be done by video for the foreseeable future.
On the federal front, courts in western Virginia have postponed live proceedings in criminal, civil and bankruptcy cases. There will be no trials at least until after April 30 in Abingdon, Big Stone Gap, Charlottesville, Danville, Harrisonburg, Lynchburg and Roanoke.
This latest Supreme Court order, issued Friday, again calls for postponements of all civil, traffic and criminal matters, including jury trials, except for emergency issues and other extenuating circumstances.
It authorizes judges to use their discretion to limit in-person contact while also acting to preserve the constitutional rights of the parties in each case.
And, through April 26, it continues non-emergency proceedings, including warrants in debt, unlawful detainers, garnishments and writs of eviction.
It also directs courts to issue summonses rather than capiases in instances where defendants have failed to appear. A capias generally leads to the jailing of someone who has not shown up for court when they were supposed to.
The order further allows judges to limit activity in court clerks’ offices, but it specifies that those offices must remain accessible by telephone or email during regular business hours.
Most clerks’ offices in the Roanoke and New River valleys have recently announced new limitations; anyone with business to conduct at a clerk’s office should call ahead to find out if new restrictions now apply.