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Riding the Rocket Docket – The COVID-19 Edition

by | Mar 25, 2020 | Rocket Docket

While the nation (and the world) struggle with the spread of the novel coronavirus, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia has put a number of changes in place that mirror those occurring in other federal and state courts. A summary of the changes appears on the landing page for the Court’s website here, which also includes links to the court’s General Orders that are the official pronouncements on these changes.

The changes in place include the following:

  • With the exception of critical or emergency proceedings, all civil and criminal in-person proceedings (including court appearances, trials, hearings, and settlement conferences) scheduled to occur through May 1, 2020, are postponed and continued. Likewise, all non-case related outside events and gatherings, including naturalization proceedings, scheduled through May 1, 2020, are postponed. On the other hand, a footnote in the court’s General Order 2020-07 notes that the suspension of proceedings does not extend to conference calls or video proceedings scheduled or confirmed with a presiding judge since the Court’s issuance of General Order 2020-03 on March 16, 2020.
  • All filing deadlines set to fall on or before April 14, 2020, are extended by 14 days, unless the presiding judge in an individual case issues, or has issued, an order since March 16, 2020 directing that filings be submitted on or before April14, 2020. The court specifically noted in its General Order that “[p]arties and counsel are encouraged to continue submitting filings, and to the extent appropriate, disputes by be resolved by the Court without an in-person hearing.”
  • In order to minimize person-to-person contact for individuals submitting in-person filings, the courts have installed drop-boxes that allow litigants to date stamp their filings and securely submit them without entering the clerk’s office. Counsel registered to submit filings via CM/ECF may continue to make electronic filings.
  • For the purpose of criminal cases subject to federal speedy trial limitations, the Court has ruled that the time period subject to suspension of grand jury proceedings (April 1 through May 1, 2020) and the time period subject to the suspension of criminal jury trials (April 18 through May 1, 2020) are excluded from speedy trial calculations pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3161(h)(7)(A). The Court has directed the U.S. Attorney to file a motion and proposed order in all criminal matters in which an indictment is delayed, or purportedly delayed, due to the absence of a sitting grand jury. Judges will handle case specific speedy trial findings for trial continuances at the appropriate time.
  • Finally, though the clerk’s offices and the U.S. Probation offices remain open, the Court has imposed significant restrictions on who may be denied entry to the courthouses in the Eastern District of Virginia. These restrictions are based in part on countries of origin and regions of the United States that have been identified as experiencing significant COVID-19 outbreaks.

Anecdotally, I can report that District Judges and Magistrate Judges continue to work hard, under trying conditions and with skeleton staff, to assist parties in moving cases forward. But there is no question that it will be challenging for all parties in litigation until the end of this health crisis.

David Deitch leads the White Collar Defense and Corporate Compliance practice at Berenzweig Leonard. David is an experienced white collar trial lawyer who has tried more than 100 jury trials to verdict in federal and state courts around the nation. He can be reached at [email protected]