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Judiciary Extends Emergency Order A Fourth Time, Prepares for Massive Case Backlog

Gavel in front of Virginia State flag.

The Supreme Court of Virginia is extending a judicial emergency order for a fourth time, through June 7th. And courts can start hearing non-emergency cases in person in about two weeks -- as long as they take steps to minimize the risk of spreading disease. 

Since the judicial emergency order began nearly two months ago, court dockets have been limited to only emergency cases. That includes criminal arraignments, protective order cases and emergency child custody or protection cases. Most of those hearings have taken place electronically or by phone. 

Courts are still encouraged to prioritize emergency cases and continue using video conferencing or phone calls to conduct hearings. 

In addition to the extension, the Supreme Court of Virginia outlined some of the challenges courts are facing as they try to balance public safety while keeping up with caseloads. 

The Court wrote in the latest update to the emergency order that, last year, Virginia circuit and district courts were hearing more than 100,000 cases per week. Now they have a backlog of 673,000 cases to tackle when they reopen. 

“Every week, with the dockets limited only to emergency cases, adds approximately 60,000, 18,000 and 19,000 more cases to this growing backlog in the General District, Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Courts and Circuit Courts, respectively,” the order said.

The court also noted there’s an ongoing shortage of court clerks and other judicial staff; a problem General Assembly members tried to resolve in this years’ budget.  But due to the anticipated economic impacts of the pandemic, new spending was frozen and those planned new hires are on hold.

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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