Courts throughout West Virginia can resume limited function beginning May 18, according to an order from the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
Chief Justice Tim Armstead handed down an order Wednesday setting protocol for courts and related public judicial offices to resume certain court proceedings as long as employees and involved parties adhere to the measures set forth.
The court established “Green Counties,” which are those counties not designated as “hotspot” counties by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.
Under the court’s order, “Green” counties can begin the gradual phase-in toward normal operations and can commence in-person hearings beginning May 18.
Grand jury proceedings can begin again on June 15, and jury trials may begin June 29.
The court ordered that judicial officers should continue to enforce social distancing among jurors and can move trials to alternative locations that can accommodate social distancing as well as examining witnesses and presenting evidence.
Local courts aren’t required to resume regular in-person proceedings, and judges have the discretion to delay, impose restrictions and continue to use video and telephone conferencing for hearings and other proceedings.
Court staff working in those counties that are “Green” and can resume operations have to adhere to strict guidelines concerning sanitation, social distancing and personal protective equipment for when they are physically at work.
Court employees in these counties likewise may return to work on May 18, but they have to comply with the protocols for social distancing, sanitizing work areas and wearing masks.
If a court employee has a fever or other COVID-19 symptoms, that person cannot come to work and must remain home for 14 days after the onset of the symptoms, and employees directly exposed to a suspected case of the virus should self-quarantine for 14 days.
Attorneys, litigants and witnesses also will be required to wear masks to court for in-person proceedings. That includes “any type of face covering that catches droplets leaving the nose and mouth, including homemade fabric masks or bandanas,” according to the Supreme Court’s news release. Medical masks or N95 masks are not required.
As for “hotspot” counties, operations will not change from an existing order the court originally handed down in March and extended last month.
By protocol, “hotspot” counties are subject to more strict public health measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, according to West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice’s Office.
As of Monday, five counties were considered “hotspots”: Berkeley, Harrison, Jefferson, Marion and Monongalia.
Employees in those counties also should continue to work remotely when possible, and judicial offices should be staffed with minimal personnel, according to the court’s order.
A “hotspot” designation means judges, court staff and involved parties still will be required to facilitate hearings and other court proceedings via video or teleconference, and jurors and grand juries can’t be assembled until DHHR no longer considers those places as “hotspots.”
Grand jury proceedings and jury trials can commence seven days after the “hotspot” counties obtain “Green Status” under the court’s order.