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Client Alert: COVID-19 and the Courts

The spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) is impacting the daily operation of the courts in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. The courts in these jurisdictions have issued the following standing orders in response to the pandemic.

D.C. Standing Judicial Orders and Emergency Measures Enacted by the District of Columbia Concerning COVID-19
 
Effective Wednesday, March 18, 2020, Chief Judge Robert E. Morin adopted a standing order continuing hearings in all non-priority matters scheduled before May 15, 2020.  Similarly, all mediation sessions scheduled before May 15, 2020 are continued and will be rescheduled or conducted telephonically.  The standing order includes all matters filed in the Landlord and Tenant Branch, as well as the Small Claims Branch.
 
The Court’s decision to continue these matters will impact all delinquency proceedings we have initiated in the District of Columbia court system.  This standing order does not inhibit our ability to file new cases.  However, the court’s standing order will delay our progress and ability to obtain judgment in all court cases.  At this point, we do not know how long these measures will be in place, but we will provide additional updates as we receive the same from the Court.
 
On Wednesday, March 18, 2020, the Court issued an additional order, which it later amended on March 19, 2020.  The Court’s order tolls and extends all deadlines and time limits in statutes, court rules, and standing orders that would otherwise expire before May 15, 2020.  The Court also noted that deadlines and time limits may be extended further or modified as circumstances require.

Additionally, the District of Columbia recently issued an order to close all non-essential businesses.  As of March 26, 2020, the auction house our firm uses for our D.C. Condominium Act foreclosures has closed as a non-essential business until the emergency is over.  As a result, any non-judicial foreclosure that has been scheduled in D.C. has been cancelled and our office will be unable to file new foreclosures until the emergency is over.  Our attorneys will evaluate any case where a foreclosure has been filed or was under consideration and provide an alternative recommendation on each collection action on a case by case basis.  Should you have any questions about any of your collection accounts during this time, please do not hesitate to contact our office. 
 
Our office will continue to monitor the evolving COVID-19 situation to implement and execute the most effective strategy for all of our clients.  For ease of reference, the Court’s standing orders can be found here.
 
Maryland Standing Judicial Orders Concerning COVID-19
 
Effective Monday, March 16, 2020, Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera exercised her authority under State law and implemented a standing Order containing preventative measures related to COVID-19.  According to Chief Judge Barbera, “[i]n response to COVID-19, the Maryland Judiciary is taking further action to protect court visitors and Judiciary personnel. The health and well-being of all Marylanders continue to be a top priority as we ensure that essential court operations continue during this public health emergency.” The Order applies to both Maryland Circuit and District Courts and has already been implemented. In turn, these measures will impact client matters moving forward for the foreseeable future.

Specifically, Chief Judge Barbera’s Order implemented emergency operations and limited court access to essential personnel. Further, the Order postponed all matters scheduled through April 3, 2020, with the exception of certain emergency criminal matters in both the Circuit Court[1] and District Court[2]. This will severely impact current delinquency proceedings. We expect the Courts will continue to accept new case filings for docketing but will not schedule hearings.  The decision to not conduct hearings will essentially halt all forward progress.  We do not yet know how long these measures will be in place but the Court has advised that it will reassess these measures.

The status of Maryland Courts along with any updates related to COVID-19 can be found on the Maryland Judiciary’s web page.

Virginia Declaration of Judicial Emergency

Effective Monday, March 16, 2020, Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald W. Lemons exercised his authority under State law to declare a judicial emergency. The Chief Justice’s Order is in effect for 21 days, to April 6, 2020. The Order is aimed at implementing preventative measures related to COVID-19.  The Order affects all Virginia Courts and will impact client matters moving forward for the foreseeable future. The Order is effective for 21 days, but may be extended for additional periods not to exceed 21 days, for the duration of the threat.

According to the Chief Justice, the Order was signed at the request of the Governor and “to protect the health and safety of court employees, litigants, judges and the general public.” The Order suspends all proceedings and tolls all deadlines in Virginia Courts, subject to few exceptions, for a period of 21 days while the Order is in place. In addition, all General District and Circuit Courts are directed to implement a number of preventative measures aimed at combating the spread of COVID-19.

Many General District and Circuit Courts have also implemented additional preventative measures and suspended the majority of their proceeding for longer than 21 days. This will severely impact many of our clients’ delinquency matters. All matters that were already scheduled for a date during which a court is closed will automatically be continued to a future date after the court reopens. In addition, the courts are asking that all new matters be filed with return dates no earlier than June, and in some cases July to accommodate the number of matters from March and April that will be continued to May.  This means that we will not be able to obtain judgments, collect on garnishments, or proceed with judicial foreclosure actions during the time that the Court has suspended its proceedings.

A link to the Declaration of Judicial Emergency can be found here.

Our firm is actively monitoring and communicating with the courts within the jurisdictions we practice in order to ensure that the effect on our clients’ matters is as limited as possible. We will also continue to work on all client matters through the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. As we continue to monitor the situation, our office will adapt its procedures to ensure the safety of our clients and staff.  However, as a result, clients may experience a disruption of services while the COVID-19 emergency continues to unfold.  Please contact us should have any questions about the status of pending cases. We will update clients with additional information as it becomes available. 
 
[1] Maryland Circuit Courts will continue to preside over bail reviews, bench warrants, arraignments, juvenile detention hearings, emergency evaluation petitions, quarantine and isolation petitions, extradition cases, body attachments, and extreme risk protective order appeals.
[2] Maryland District Courts will continue to preside over bail reviews, bench warrants, emergency evaluation petitions, quarantine and isolation violations, and body attachments.
The information contained here is not intended to provide legal advice or opinion and should not be acted upon without consulting an attorney. Counsel should not be selected based on advertising materials, and we recommend that you conduct further investigation when seeking legal representation.