The state Supreme Court has halted most court proceedings, including evictions, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under an administrative order Sunday night from Chief Justice Tim Armstead, hearings only will take place for certain emergency circumstances defined by the court. The order will remain in effect until April 10 at which time the court could extend it.
“Medical experts have consistently advised that in-person contact should be eliminated in all instances where such limitation is possible,” Armstead said in a news release. “We believe it is our responsibility to limit such in-person contact to the fullest extent possible while ensuring that our courts address emergency matters necessary to protect the health or safety of our individual citizens and our communities.”
The order covers every circuit and family court judge and magistrate in all 55 counties. It came a day after the court announced a judicial employee working in Kanawha County tested positive for COVID-19. That employee was hospitalized at the time.
Emergency hearings “required to protect the immediate health or safety of a party of the community” will take place over video conference or telephone where appropriate.
Eviction proceedings are not included in the “emergency circumstances,” meaning those cases won’t be heard as long as the order is in place.
Hearings will take place in cases involving:
- domestic violence;
- child abuse and neglect upon initial removal of a child where there is an imminent threat to the health or safety of a child;
- infant guardianship;
- physical custody involving an imminent threat to the health or safety of a child;
- juvenile detention or placement in state custody;
- initial appearances;
- bond hearings;
- search warrants;
- criminal preliminary hearings;
- mental hygiene; and
- matters initiated by public health officials to enforce orders related to the COVID-19 crisis.
Remaining scheduled trials or hearings will be rescheduled by the presiding judge in the case.
Deadlines under existing court orders, laws, ordinances administrative rules or other public record are extended to April 11. That does not apply to cases meeting the emergency circumstances defined by the Supreme Court.
In the order, Armstead instructed chief circuit and chief family court judges to establish a schedule for at least one judge in each circuit to be on-call while the order is in effect. Circuit and magistrate clerks are instructed to keep their offices staffed with “sufficient personnel” to keep offices functioning.