Wednesday, May 27, 2020
May 27, 2020

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Clark County courts canceling, modifying judicial proceedings

Due to COVID-19 caution, some dockets canceled, others held via video

By , Columbian Assistant Metro Editor
Published:

Clark County courts are taking precautionary measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 by canceling or modifying judicial proceedings.

The criminal first appearance docket in Clark County Superior Court was canceled Monday. Superior Court judges and administration met the first half of the day to discuss how best to curtail and limit certain court functions.

“It’s a fluid situation. We can change daily. We’ve got additional input that we are considering tomorrow at a judges meeting,” Presiding Superior Court Judge Scott Collier said in a voicemail.

When reached by phone, Collier said multiple meetings on the issue were held last week and that those communications continued over the weekend. He added that Friday was a “totally different situation than we saw today,” with Gov. Jay Inslee ordering the temporary statewide closure of all bars, restaurants, gyms and other facilities. Schools have also closed for six weeks.

“We are going to be having a whole lot less people coming into the courthouse,” Collier said.

Court officials are working to reduce the size of dockets by issuing summons, making telephonic accommodations and setting hearings outside a docket.

The court held Monday afternoon’s change of plea docket via video conference for the first time. It had planned to roll out video conferences next month but decided to experiment now, Collier said. Defendants in custody will make their first appearances via video conference Tuesday morning, he said.

Collier said it’s important to understand that the situation could change daily: “It is a moving target.”

According to a news release issued Monday evening, “Persons exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, persistent cough, or shortness of breath are prohibited from entering (the) Clark County Courthouse, Juvenile Courthouse or the Family Law Annex. Any such person who does appear shall be refused entry.”

People at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19 or who can’t enter the courthouse should contact the appropriate judicial department to make other arrangements.

According to a General Order signed Monday, all criminal and civil jury trials not yet in session are continued until at least April 27. Bench trials remain an option, and bench trials already scheduled are not affected. Jurors summoned for service between now and March 24 are excused from service.

All criminal in-custody hearings, except for first appearances, arraignments, bail review, changes of plea, sentencings and readiness, will be continued until at least April 27. All criminal out-of-custody hearings, except for arraignments, changes of plea, sentencings and release conditions reviews, will also be continued until after that date.

Out-of-custody defendants do not need to appear for readiness hearings between now and April 16. No bench warrants will be issued. They also do not need to appear for summons between now and at least April 24.

Beginning Wednesday, the court will allow telephonic appearances in all civil and family law hearings.

All settlement conferences scheduled between now and April 27 are canceled. All truancy matters are suspended until further notice, according to the order.

For the latest on Superior Court changes, visit www.clark.wa.gov/superior-court.

District Court

Clark County District Court announced extensive cancellations and modifications to its operations Monday afternoon, after canceling the day’s out-of-custody dockets. In-custody hearings were held via video.

Going forward, all out-of-custody criminal dockets are canceled, and all criminal trials will be continued until after April 30. Defendants will receive notice of their rescheduled court date by mail, according to a news release and administrative order. In-custody matters will continue on their scheduled date via video conference, but there may be changes to the time.

The District Court lobby will only be open to process protection orders and for other emergency issues. All other civil and infraction matters need to be filed electronically or by mail.

Civil trials will be continued until after June 30. Litigants will receive notice of the rescheduled date by mail.

All currently scheduled infraction hearings that require a court appearance will be rescheduled to sometime in June. Mail-in infraction hearings will still be processed.

Civil ex parte motions will continue to be processed, and may be heard without oral argument, or telephonically.

All small claims, vehicle impounds and name change petitions will be scheduled out past May 31, unless an emergency exception is granted. Any matters currently set will be rescheduled or handled telephonically.

Petitions for anti-harassment and stalking protection orders, as well as review of criminal no-contact orders, will proceed as scheduled.

Weapons surrender-review hearings will proceed as normal.

Defendants should contact District Court at 564-397-2424 to update their address and telephone number. Defendants being represented should stay in contact with their attorney. Anyone represented by Vancouver Defenders should call 360-906-7234.

The pre-trial and probation lobby at the Law Enforcement Center and the Mabry Center lobby are closed to the public through April 30. Work crews are suspended through April 6. Check-ins will be done by phone.

Questions regarding pre-trial release or probation, or people who need to check in, should call 564-397-2424.

For the latest on District Court changes, visit www.clark.wa.gov/district-court.

Law Library

The Clark County Law Library Board of Trustees voted early Monday afternoon to close the Law Library for six weeks due to COVID-19.

The Law Library contains books and computer resources to help people find answers to their legal questions. It is tentatively scheduled to re-open April 27.

“During the closure we will be providing as much remote reference service as we can,” Law Librarian Maria Sosnowski said in a news release.

Questions regarding assistance should be sent to lawlibrary@clark.wa.gov and include a phone number. People can also leave a voicemail at 564-397-2268. Staff will return emails and phone calls, during the normal hours of operation of 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, within an hour.

Superior Court Judge Bernard Veljacic said that if there’s a written request to re-open sooner, the board can re-evaluate at that time. The board is scheduled to meet on this issue again April 6.

Updated information for the public is available on the law library’s voicemail and website: www.clark.wa.gov/law-library. A sign will also be posted on the door.

For a full list of court closures and emergency modifications across the state, visit www.courts.wa.gov/index.cfm?fa=home.courtClosures.

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