Sport Courts in Virginia will start returning to normal this week, but each city is doing it differently
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Jury trials are still off the table, but life is returning a bit more to normal this week in courthouses across Hampton Roads.
That’s due to an order issued last week by the Supreme Court of Virginia, which gave the state’s lower courts the go-ahead to resume holding some in-person, non-emergency hearings provided they continue to work to minimize the spread of the coronavirus.
Most types of court hearings have been on hold since March 16, when the high court issued an emergency judicial order that essentially prevented the lower courts from doing anything other than arraignments, bond hearings and other matters considered to be an emergency.
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What exactly will be permitted this week now that the restrictions have been eased — and what additional rules will be applied — will largely be determined by the individual courts. And many localities were still working Friday to sort everything out.
In Portsmouth, most every kind of hearing, service and activity — except for jury trials —will be allowed to proceed, according to Cynthia Morrison, the city’s longtime Clerk of the Circuit Court.
But if you want to enter the building, you’ll be required to wear a mask and maintain 6 feet of distance from others, she said. Sheriff’s deputies will be enforcing the rules.
The Newport News courthouse also will require employees and visitors to wear masks. Deputies will check their temperature with a no-touch thermometer and ask them several coronavirus-related screening questions before allowing them to enter, said Angela Reason, the Clerk of the Circuit Court for the city.
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The number of people allowed into the lobby, courtrooms and other parts of the courthouse also will be limited, Reason said.
In Norfolk, court officials will continue to encourage hearings by video and telephone conference whenever possible, but they’ll also permit more in-person ones as long as certain guidelines are met, according to an order issued last week.
Among other things, the number of people allowed in a courtroom will be kept to four and the amount of time allotted to attorneys will be limited to about a half hour in most cases. Uncontested divorces, custody appeals and driver’s license restoration cases are among the types of civil court matters that can be heard.
As for criminal cases, guilty pleas and trials decided by a judge, rather than a jury, can go forward as long as they don’t require more than four people to attend. Any additional witnesses past that number must appear remotely, or have their testimony entered through a written stipulation.
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Virginia Beach Circuit Court is largely sticking with the stringent safety measures it instituted weeks ago, keeping the general public out of the city’s courthouse through June 7. Only those on official business as outlined in thewill be permitted in the building.
Among the types of hearings that will be allowed in Virginia Beach Circuit Court will be guilty pleas in criminal cases, according to an order released Friday. But they’ll only be permitted if all parties have agreed on a sentencing recommendation. Also, jailed defendants in those cases will have to appear via video conference, rather than in person.
Arraignments, bond hearings, modification of sentences and probation violations with an agreed disposition also will be performed via video.
As for civil matters being held in Circuit Court, things like appeals of protective orders and garnishment proceedings can be heard. Most other civil court cases scheduled through June 7 will be continued, though.
In-court proceedings in Circuit Court will be limited to 10 people with proper social distancing being followed. Everyone in the courtroom will be encouraged to wear face masks, except for when it inhibits their ability to communicate.
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In Virginia Beach General District Court, however, many criminal, civil and traffic hearings will occur in person and as scheduled. Only parties to those cases, attorneys and witnesses may attend without the permission of the court.
Bond hearings will be conducted via video.
As of late Friday afternoon, Chesapeake court officials had not yet released their plans for this week.
can be found on the state Supreme Court’s website.
Jane Harper, firstname.lastname@example.org
This story was updated to include information regarding Virginia Beach General District, and how it will operate going forward as opposed to Virginia Beach Circuit Court.
©2020 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)
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