West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals

The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals chamber is pictured in September 2019. On Sunday, Chief Justice Tim Armstead handed down an order delaying all non-emergency proceedings throughout the state in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. A judicial employee in Kanawha County was diagnosed with the illness during the weekend.

The West Virginia has suspended most court proceedings, including eviction proceedings, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The court declared a judicial emergency Sunday night, which means hearings only will take place for certain emergency circumstances defined by the court.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Tim Armstead handed down an administrative order establishing the emergency Sunday night. The order will stay in effect until April 10. The court has the option to extend the order, according to a news release.

“Medical experts have consistently advised that in-person contact should be eliminated in all instances where such limitation is possible,” Armstead said in the 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 is effective for every circuit judge, family court judge and magistrate in all 55 counties.

The court handed down the order one day after announcing that a judicial employee working in Kanawha County had tested positive for COVID-19. That employee was hospitalized at the time the court sent out a news release about their illness Saturday. 

Emergency hearings that are “required to protect the immediate health or safety of a party of the community” will take place, but those hearings should take place over video conference or telephone where appropriate. Those sorts of hearings won’t be delayed or extended.

Eviction proceedings are not included in the “emergency circumstances” defined in the court, meaning those cases won’t take place as long as the order is in place.

Under the order, hearings still will take place for cases involving the following circumstances

  • domestic violence;
  • child abuse and neglect upon initial remove of a child where there is an imminent threat to the health or safety of a child;
  • infant guardianship;
  • physical custody cases involving an imminent threat to the health or safety of a child;
  • juvenile detention or placement in state custody; or criminal 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.

Any trials or hearings already scheduled to take place between Monday and April 10 are to be delayed and rescheduled at the discretion of the presiding judge in a given case.

Any deadlines that exist through existing court orders, laws, ordinances administrative rules or other public record are extended to April 11. The exception to this rule is if that deadline is in a case that meets the emergency circumstances defined by the Supreme Court.

In the order, Armstead instructed chief circuit judges 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, and circuit clerks and magistrate clerks are instructed to keep their offices staffed with “sufficient personnel” to keep their offices functioning, including having someone available to answer the phone during regular office hours.

Reach Lacie Pierson at lacie.pierson@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1723 or follow @laciepierson on Twitter.