West Virginia Record

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Justice issues executive order allowing counties to limit access to courthouses

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By Kyla Asbury | Mar 21, 2020

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CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice issued an executive order Thursday granting counties the authority to limit access to the public as they see fit to protect employees and limit exposure of COVID-19.

Justice wrote in the executive order that counties are responsible for maintaining daily services, including access to the circuit courts and magistrates and that they need the authority and flexibility to staff, hold meetings and limit access to protect county employees, including the authority and flexibility to restrict or limit access by the public to the county courthouses and other government facilities under their jurisdictions.

"Counties have the authority under state law to issue orders and guidance and to take other actions as necessary to protect the public health, safety and welfare," the executive order states. "County staff shall take such actions to effectuate the order and guidance of county commissioners, in consultation with circuit court judges where appropriate."

Several counties were already urging citizens to conduct business over the phone or online whenever possible as of earlier this week after the state Supreme Court issued suggested guidelines for court systems.

While most counties are continuing with regular operating hours, they're restricting access to the public by urging the public to call in or go online. Some are allowing in-person use of the courthouse for essential business only that cannot be conducted over the phone.

In Fayette County, all civil and criminal trials between March 17 and April 10 are continued to a later date.

In Jackson County, the circuit court and magistrate court will follow the Supreme Court's guidelines, but many of the other offices, such as the Tax Department and Assessor's Office, are closed to the public for in-person transactions. Residents are urged to call the departments directly.

Mercer County Commission closed the courthouse in that county for the time being.

The protocol the Supreme Court issued last week included encouraging judicial officers to postpone proceedings that are not time-sensitive, use available technology such as conference calls and video conferencing to minimize person-to-person contact and schedule dockets to limit the number of people gathering in large numbers.

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West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals