One day after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam imposed a state-wide stay-at-home order, the Supreme Court of Virginia extended the ongoing judicial emergency by 20 days, to run through April 26, 2020.
On March 16, the Chief Justice declared a judicial emergency, effective through April 5, “to protect the health and safety of court employees, litigants, judges, and the general public.” The initial order suspended all non-essential, non-emergency court proceedings—with the deadlines tolled and extended, as necessary—throughout the Commonwealth’s district and circuit courts. Additionally, courts were encouraged to take remedial actions such as requiring e-filing, if available, and using “telephonic and video technology . . . for all necessary hearings, trials, or other matters, including arraignments.”
The extension order entered on March 27 likewise calls for postponement of all civil, criminal, and traffic court matters except for emergency issues and other cases that warrant immediate action. Specifically, the extension order advises courts to
[G]ive precedence on the docket to emergency matters including, but . . . not limited to, quarantine or isolation matters, criminal arraignments, bail reviews, protective order cases, emergency child custody or protection cases, civil commitment hearings, petitions for temporary injunctive relief, proceedings related to emergency protection of elderly or vulnerable persons, petitions for appointment of a guardian or conservator, and proceedings necessary to safeguard applicable constitutional protections.
Judges are empowered to use their discretion to limit in-person contact in the courts while ensuring the preservation of individual constitutional rights. In the interest of limiting physical attendance in courthouses, the extension order states, “[t]o the extent authorized by law, all matters that a court hears pursuant to this Order should be conducted by two-way electronic audio-visual communication, if available.”
While the extension order is effective through April 26, it “may be extended for additional periods as provided” in the Code of Virginia. Presumably, Virginians can expect the judicial emergency to last beyond April 26, given Gov. Northam’s March 26 stay-at-home order, which is effective throughout the Commonwealth until June 11. As of March 31, Virginia is the first and only state to order its residents to stay home, or shelter in place, into June.