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Resetting Virginia court during Covid- Info from Fairfax criminal lawyer

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Resetting Virginia court during Covid- Info from Fairfax criminal lawyer- Photo of Fairfax County, Virginia courthouse

Resetting Virginia court during Covid- Info from Fairfax criminal lawyer

Resetting court dates is a patchwork in Northern Virginia, says Fairfax criminal lawyer

Resetting court dates has been happening since March 2020, due to Virginia Supreme Court’s Covid-19-related judicial emergency orders. As a Fairfax criminal lawyer, I know that the most recent and fourth state Supreme Court judicial emergency order (issued May 6) continues jury trials but lets each county court decide whether to continue non-jury criminal and DUI court dates, preliminary hearings and other court dates that had been set to proceed during May 18 through June 7, 2020. More specifically, the Virginia Supreme Court’s order provides that “all courts may hear in-person non-emergency matters if they determine it is safe to do so, and provided they comply with the guidance for transitioning from emergency to routine operations provided by the Office of the Executive
Secretary in order to minimize the risk of the spread of COVID-19 from in-person court proceedings.”

What does Virginia court date resetting mean for you?

If you have a non-jury criminal or DUI trial currently scheduled in a Virginia court through June 7, 2020, check with your lawyer (if you already have an attorney) about whether the court has or will be resetting your trial or preliminary hearing date. If you do not have a lawyer, General District Court trial and preliminary hearing dates can be checked here. If you learn that your criminal or DWI court date is scheduled for a date that is problematic for you, act timely with appropriate action to seek a rescheduling.

Fairfax is among the courts not automatically resetting criminal and DUI trials scheduled after May 17 2020

Virginia criminal and DUI defendants should not assume that all the commonwealth’s courts will treat the state Supreme Court’s latest judicial emergency order the same for purposes or resetting court dates or not. For instance, after automatically continuing my trials that were scheduled through May 17, the criminal and traffic divisions of the Fairfax County General District Court Clerk’s office told me that the court — having one of Virginia’s busiest dockets — was not automatically rescheduling trials scheduled for after May 17. The same goes for Northern Virginia’s Loudoun County General District Court and Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court. On the other hand, an automatic outgoing recording at the Prince William County General District Court pronounces that all trials scheduled through June 7 2020 are being rescheduled.

Fairfax District Court clerk windows are currently closed due to the Covid-19 virus

A visitor to the Fairfax County General District Court, and Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court, clerks’ windows will find them closed, as if in a partial ghost town. One will find a similar situation at certain other Virginia courthouses during the pandemic. How does this health concern approach jibe with the reality that trials will resume in only one week and a half in so many commonwealth courthouses? Clearly, judges recognize the important balance between maintaining physical distancing (for instance limiting the number of people in each courtroom and how far each person is spaced from each other) in order to limit the spread of coronavirus, and the flood of cases that await going to trial that were the subject of court date resetting pursuant to the Virginia Supreme Court’s first three judicial emergency orders.

How to communicate with the Fairfax District Court clerks’ offices while their customer service windows are closed?

While the Fairfax District Court clerks’ office windows are closed, people still need to file case documents with those court clerks, to obtain documents and date-stamped court filing photocopies from them, and to seek resetting proceedings of their cases. Currently the District Courts in Fairfax are accepting court filings physically by drop boxes at their respective locations in the courthouse, and by email. As always, lawyers may enter their appearances online here, for Fairfax criminal and DUI General District Court matters. Here are the email addresses to use for the General District Court clerk’s criminal division and traffic division, and the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court clerk’s office.

To obtain documents from the Fairfax General District Court clerk’s office — which in the past weeks has been resetting slews of trial dates — one may visit the General District Court clerk’s office on the second floor of the courthouse at 4110 Chain Bridge Road, where three easy-to-use computer terminals enable one to review all publicly available documents in any criminal or DWI case files for that court. One may complete a document request form located near the court clerks’ computer window on that floor to obtain document printouts from those files at fifty cents per page. As a word of caution, visitors to the Fairfax county courthouse are not permitted to take photographs without judicial permission, so photography is not an option for making copies from the court’s computer-scanned case documents. Cellphones are allowed in this courthouse, enabling one to take notes about the file documents for a case.

The Virginia Courthouses continue to run for bond hearings, arraignments, and protective order hearings

In the midst of resetting thousands of trials, the Fairfax County and other Virginia courthouses continue to have courtroom proceedings proceed for bond hearings, arraignments for jail inmates, and protective order (often running parallel to assault prosecutions) hearings, for instance. To help limit the spread of Covid-19 and to allay the concerns of litigants, witnesses, judges and other courthouse personnel, the Virginia Supreme Courts’ judicial emergency orders permit the county courts individually to determine the types of cases for which the parties to cases may agree to conduct proceedings remotely by phone and such remote video technologies as Webex. I prefer appearing in court in person, feeling nothing replaces the persuasive and attention-sustaining possibilities of in-person appearances. I also believe that nothing beats the criminal defense lawyer’s and judge’s ability to see and hear all of a witnesses’ body movements, voice, actions and persona. The Virginia Supreme Court’s website here presents a consolidated listing of respective Virginia county court procedural changes during the coronavirus, but the Fairfax and some other courthouses are updating their pandemic policies so often that this Supreme Court link will not always be completely up to date, versus checking directly with the respective courts, and for Fairfax being able to check the relevant Covid-19 links on the county bar association website.

This is the first of a two-part article. The second and final part is here.

Fairfax criminal lawyer Jonathan L. Katz pursues your best defense in Northern Virginia courts and beyond, against felony, misdemeanor, and DUI prosecutions, and protective order hearings. Call 703-383-1100 for a free consultation with Jon Katz about your court-pending criminal or DWI case.