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The Legal Brief

Courts Continue to Deal with COVID-19

March 25, 2020

By: Thomas J. Hurney Jr.

The impact of the COVID-19 virus continues to affect federal and state courts in West Virginia.
On the state court side, on March 22, 2020, the Supreme Court of Appeals issued an order declaring a judicial emergency, finding the COVID-19 outbreak is an “an unprecedented public health emergency that requires immediate action to encourage effective social distancing and reduce the need for people to leave their homes to protect the health and safety of the citizens of West Virginia.” Under W. Va. Code § 2-2-2, which authorizes the Chief Justice to declare an emergency in situations where conditions prevent the general transactions of court business, the Court canceled trials, hearings, and deadlines between March 23 and April 10:

THEREFORE, it is ORDERED that in order to protect the health and well-being of court employees, litigants, witnesses, jurors, attorneys, and the general public, a judicial emergency is declared for the day(s) of March 23, 2020, through April 10, 2020, in all fifty-five (55) counties in West Virginia. Pursuant to W. Va. Code §2-2-2(a), all proceedings and court deadlines, except the emergency proceedings described herein, directed to take place or any act required to be done on any day falling within this period of judicial emergency, are stayed. All jury trials are stayed during this period of judicial emergency. Deadlines set forth in court rules, statutes, ordinances, administrative rules, scheduling orders, or otherwise that are set to expire between March 23, 2020, and April 10, 2020, are hereby extended to April 11, 2020. Statutes of limitations and statutes of repose that would otherwise expire during the period between March 23, 2020, and April 10, 2020, are hereby extended to April 11, 2020. Deadlines, statutes of limitations, and statutes of repose that are not set to expire between March 23, 2020, and April 10, 2020, are not extended or tolled by this Order. Proceedings previously scheduled between March 23, 2020, and April 10, 2020, are continued until a later date determined by the presiding judicial officer. The Court may extend this order in the event the public health crisis continues.

The order makes provision for limited emergency proceedings related to criminal, juvenile, mental hygiene and abuse and neglect matters and directs the circuit courts to take action to notify employees and litigants. The order supersedes “any local administrative order issued by a judicial official.” 

For those with civil litigation in state court, this order means that trials, hearings and proceedings scheduled between March 23 and April 10 will be rescheduled. Any deadline falling within the same time period is extended to April 11. This may create issues with other deadlines applicable to a case, an issue counsel will have to address.

On March 23, 2020, the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia entered an order following up the General Order issued on March 13, which continued all jury trials for two weeks. The order continues “all civil and criminal petit jury selections and trials scheduled to commence now through April 24, 2020 before any district or magistrate judge in the Southern District of West Virginia” until further order of the Court. Going further than its March 13 General Order, the court also postponed all “in-person civil and criminal proceedings” including “court appearances, trials, hearings, settlement conferences, admission ceremonies, and grand jury meetings” scheduled from March 23 to April 24 postponed until rescheduled at a later date, “unless the presiding judge in an individual case issues an order after the date of this Order directing that a particular proceeding will be held on or before April 24, 2020.”  “The order also finds that due to the difficulty in obtaining “an adequate spectrum of jurors” all criminal trials will also be continued with the time period excluded from calculation under the Speedy Trial Act. Last, the order provides that the clerk’s office will file the order in each case and “indicate on the docket sheet what filing deadlines have been changed.” This process should take 24-48 hours. The Court also orders that the U.S. Courthouses in Southern West Virginia are closed to the public effective immediately.

Similar to the state order, all proceedings - trials and in person hearings - are postponed. The federal order, however, does not speak to deadlines occurring within the March 23-April 24 window, meaning they remain in effect.

Please contact your attorney with any questions about your case.


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