COVID-19 Leads to Rare Judicial Emergency in Virginia

Mar 19, 2020

The Supreme Court of Virginia's judicial emergency will suspend non-essential, non-emergency cases in courthouses across Virginia, including eviction cases.
Credit Morgan Riley / Creative Commons

Daily life has changed not just at restaurants and gyms. Much of the action in your local courthouse has also been postponed.

In an unprecedented move, the Supreme Court of Virginia has issued a judicial emergency — suspending non-essential, non-emergency cases in courthouses across Virginia, including eviction cases. The judicial emergency is for the next 21 days, but that could be extended depending on how much of a crisis Virginia is still in at that time.

Legal expert Rich Kelsey says some important work of the court is still going on. 

“The court is still hearing criminal cases that are up against constitutional and statutory time limits, and they are still hearing certain types of statutory cases, including even custody battles," Kelsey says. "Things that the courts believe are inherently too important to put off.” 

But Carl Tobias at the University of Richmond law school points out that even some criminal cases will be postponed to make sure trials are fair. 

“Speedy Trial Act requires pretty prompt resolution of criminal cases. But even some of those are being put on hold as I understand it, and if you think about it, it makes a lot of sense," he explains. "If you are going to have a trial of someone, and credibility and witnesses are important, you’re going to have more than 10 people there for sure.”

One potential result of the judicial emergency, he says, is that many civil cases will end up settling rather than waiting for a court resolution that could be delayed months or even years.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.