Acknowledging the deterioration of conditions in the community, on November 16, 2020, the Chief Judge of the Eastern District of Virginia issued General Order 2020-22, in which the court decided to “take an incremental step back” by halting all criminal jury trials for a period of two months. In doing so, the Court noted that all three of the “gating criteria” it is using the make decisions relating to operations during the pandemic were trending in the wrong direction. The Court cited a significant increase in the past two weeks in the number of court personnel and court users needing to quarantine due to actual or likely community exposure to the virus. Second, the Court noted the sharp increase in case counts and hospitalizations around Virginia in the last several weeks. And finally, the Court observed the November 13 order from Governor Northam imposing tighter restrictions on public events in an effort to battle community spread of COVID-19.
In doing so, the Court emphasized that it could shorten the two-month suspension of criminal jury trials if conditions improve sufficiently. The Court does not intend to further reduce court operations at this time, and the resumption of civil jury trials is still indefinitely postponed. The one change that the Court emphasized is that no hearing or other proceeding in any of the courthouses in the district should have more than twenty-five people in the same room.
The delays in trials certainly will impact the interests of criminal defendants and civil litigants, but this decision by the Court clearly reflects careful and appropriate caution on behalf of the Court, its staff, the parties that appear before it, and the public.
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]