After previously announcing scaled-back services, the Clark County Superior Court bench has opted to cancel nearly all of its dockets for the next six weeks in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Following Monday’s announcement, Superior Court judges met to further discuss their ongoing response to the coronavirus. Presiding Superior Court Judge Scott Collier said Wednesday it’s possible these latest cancellations and modifications could change as the public health crisis evolves.
“I don’t know how bad this is going to get. We are taking it day by day,” he said.
Beginning Wednesday, all criminal dockets in adult and juvenile court, except for in-custody first appearances, are postponed until after April 24. In-custody first appearances will be held via video conference. Individual judges will consider written requests to hear other matters outside a docket on a case-by-case basis.
Out-of-custody defendants and respondents who were scheduled to appear on a summons between now and April 24 are not required to appear. No bench warrants will be issued during this time frame.
All criminal and civil jury trials, not already in progress, are delayed until at least April 27. All criminal, civil and family law bench trials are canceled.
Jurors summoned between March 16 and April 24 are excused from service. Anyone wishing to reschedule jury service to a later date should call Jury Administration at 564-397-2049.
Therapeutic specialty courts, such as Adult Drug Court, Family Treatment Court and Juvenile Recovery Court, will continue.
All family law dockets, including child support, are canceled through April 24. The judges’ Wednesday and Friday morning dockets are also canceled. Requests to hear a matter outside of a docket will be considered for urgent issues, such as temporary restraining orders, child safety concerns and financial concerns.
For example, Collier’s family law docket was canceled Wednesday morning, but he still heard three matters that were specially scheduled. They were spread out through the day and handled mostly by telephone, he said.
All civil, guardianship/probation and dependency dockets are canceled through April 24. Special hearings requested to be heard outside a docket will be considered.
All settlement conferences scheduled between now and April 27 are canceled.
Daily ex parte at 1 p.m. will remain open for agreed and emergency orders.
The unlawful detainer docket is also canceled. Gov. Jay Inslee announced a 30-day moratorium Wednesday on evictions for nonpayment of rent.
“We are going to have a big bow wave that we are going to spend months digging out of, trying to recover,” Collier said of the anticipated backlog of court cases once normal schedules resume.
Evictions on hold
Earlier this week, Tim Murphy, an attorney with the Northwest Justice Project’s Vancouver office, advocated for a moratorium on evictions.
He said Inslee’s announced statewide moratorium is good news, because it provides some consistency and clarity.
Murphy interprets the moratorium to mean that for 30 days landlords can’t initiate new evictions, and ongoing cases will be halted. He’s not so sure about evictions involving criminal conduct or other reasons beyond not paying rent.
“Unless it’s truly an emergency, evictions shouldn’t be happening. At least that’s the way we’re interpreting it,” Murphy said.
He added that he’ll look for clarity in a formal order from the governor’s office.
Lyn Ayers, president of the Clark County Rental Association, has questions about what this all means for landlords.
On Wednesday morning, he also heard about the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development suspending evictions and foreclosures at properties backed by the Federal Housing Administration.
“Things are really moving fast,” Ayers said. “There are more questions than answers right now.”
He wonders how landlords will be compensated, how renters will catch up if they get behind on rent and how the court system will address the potential backlog of evictions.
“It will end poorly for everybody,” he said.