In further response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia entered an order late Sunday night that declares a statewide judicial emergency applying to all lower courts in all 55 counties. As a result of the declaration, all non-emergency proceedings, including jury trials, are stayed through April 10, 2020. All deadlines and statutes of limitation that were set to expire between March 23 and April 10 are similarly tolled until April 11, 2020. Only emergency proceedings that are required to protect the immediate health and safety of a party or the community are exempted from the Court’s stay. These emergency proceedings include:
- Domestic violence proceedings
- Child abuse and neglect proceedings (but only upon initial removal or where there is an imminent threat to the child’s health and safety)
- Infant guardianship proceedings
- Physical custody proceedings involving an imminent threat to the child’s health and safety
- Juvenile detention proceedings
- Criminal initial appearances
- Bond hearings
- Search warrant applications
- Criminal preliminary hearings
- Mental hygiene proceedings
- Proceedings initiated by public health officials to enforce COVID-19 orders
- Magistrate Court disqualification proceedings
The Court has directed all lower courts to conduct even these emergency proceedings remotely to the extent possible. The Court likewise has directed the Chief Circuit Judge and Chief Family Court Judge of each circuit to develop a plan for ensuring the continuity of judicial operations—including ensuring at least one circuit court judge and one family court judge is on call during business hours—while also transitioning as much of the lower courts’ workforces as possible to remote work.
The Court’s declaration of a judicial emergency has stayed nearly all business in West Virginia’s lower courts. Although parties presumably may agree to continue some litigation activities on a voluntary basis, there will be almost no recourse to the courts for enforcement or guidance while the judicial emergency is in effect.