AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) — On Monday, May 18, many of Virginia's courts will begin resuming operations as the commonwealth moves into Phase 1 of Governor Northam's 'Forward Virginia' reopening plan.
Virginia's judicial emergency
Virginia's courts have been under a judicial emergency declared by the Supreme Court of Virginia since March, when Virginia also first declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19.
The judicial emergency, which suspended all non-essential, non-emergency court proceedings in the commonwealth, was extended several times, most recently on April 23 to May 17.
But on Monday, after most of Virginia (excluding Northern Virginia and possibly Richmond and Accomack County, depending on Gov. Northam's response to those localities' requests for delays) enters Phase 1 on May 15, a lot of court business will resume.
The judicial emergency had meant that all non-emergency court hearings were suspended and all related deadlines were tolled and extended, for the safety of court employees, litigants, judges and the public, according to Virginia Supreme Court justices.
Throughout the pandemic, up until now, all district and circuit courts were ordered to "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."
For essential cases that still went on, judges were asked to limit attendees to only attorneys, parties, and necessary witnesses and members of the press.
Instead of a capias for failure to appear, courts also only issued summonses.
The new plan starting Monday
With the judicial emergency expiring at the end of Sunday, most Virginia courts will reopen for limited businesses on Monday, May 18.
Augusta County Clerk of Circuit Court R. Steven Landes says Chief Judge W. Chapman Goodwin, of the 25th Circuit, issued a memorandum on Thursday outlining safety protocols for all cases that resume on Monday.
“The Augusta County Circuit Court and the Augusta County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office want to do everything we can to protect the public, professionals and staff who need to appear for court cases,” Landes said. “For those who do not need to enter the courthouse we continue to encourage citizens to go online to access services where possible or contact the Clerk’s Office by telephone.”
The newest protocols are in addition to Judge Goodwin’s order issued on March 13, limiting access to the Augusta County Courthouse, which remains in effect throughout the pandemic.
Safety protocols taking effect on May 19 include limiting the number of persons in the courtrooms at one time to only attorneys, necessary witnesses, interpreters, court personnel, court reporters, bailiffs, others deemed necessary by the court, and members of the media. Because of space limitations, not all witnesses may be allowed in the courthouse, but may be contacted by their attorney when to appear.
Augusta County deputies will continue to screen visitors and any individual who is displaying signs of illness, including but not limited to: fever, cough, or shortness of breath or currently feeling ill; who has visited China, Iran, South Korea, any European countries, or any other high risk countries; who has traveled domestically within the United States where COVID-19 has had widespread transmission; who has been asked to quarantine or isolate by any doctor or hospital; who has been diagnosed with or has been in contact with anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19; or has resided with or been in close contact with any person in any of the above categories will not be allowed to enter the courthouse.
Anyone who was supposed to enter the court, but was not allowed to enter due to the screening, will be asked their name and current address so a summons may be served with a new hearing date and time.
In addition, everyone entering the courthouse will be strongly encouraged to wear masks or other coverings over their nose and mouth for their protection, and for the protection of others in the courthouse.
The courtrooms will be cleaned and sanitized at the beginning of each day, and again at noon each day to further protect the public and staff. When the public and staff enter the courthouse, their temperature will also be taken by a deputy.
The public will continue to be required to make an appointment to access services provided by the Clerk of Circuit Court’s Office. For those needing assistance with civil filings, including complaints, petitions, divorces, name changes, or restoration of firearms, and applying for Concealed Handgun Permits for the first time, an appointment needs to be made by calling the Clerk’s Office at 540-245-5321.
For concealed handgun permit renewals and replacements, you should fill out an application online and then print it out and mail it with a copy if a driver's license and the current permit, along with a $40 check, to the clerk's office.
In addition, those applying for marriage licenses, Notary qualifications, administration of oaths, recordation of military discharge papers, and appointment of ministers and others to perform marriage ceremonies continue to need to make an appointment to enter the courthouse. Those needing assistance with probate and estate matters will continue to make appointments, as has been the practice in the past.
Only anyone appearing in their normal professional capacity, who typically requires access to the Clerk’s Office, can enter without an appointment. That includes professionals recording deeds and attorneys representing clients with civil or criminal matters or filings.
Without an appointment, you will not be able to enter.
More information about the online services available for the public at the Augusta County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office can be found here.