Emergencies and the courts

How courts operate, or don’t, post-disaster has been of considerable concern since 9/11 and all the more so after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Several states have tackled the matter. For example, Delaware’s SB 25 of 2009 provides for the operation of the courts in the event of an emergency and grants the Chief Justice the authority to declare a judicial emergency when there are emergency circumstances affecting one or more court facilities with such order limited to an initial duration of 30 days but renewable for 30 day periods. It allows the Chief Justice to order the conducting of courts outside their normal county, extend statutes of limitations, and similar measures.

In 2010, several states are looking at similar measures.

Georgia’s HB 185 authorizes the Chief Justice to extend the duration of a judicial emergency order when a public health emergency exists until the emergency ends (currently there is a maximum of 60 days).

Virginia’s HB 883 sets out a procedure for the Supreme Court to follow in entering an order declaring a judicial emergency when there is a disaster as defined in the Commonwealth’s Emergency Services and Disaster Law. The bill permits the judicial emergency order to suspend, toll, extend, or otherwise grant relief from time limits or filing requirements in any court affected by the order and allows designation of a neighboring jurisdiction as proper venue for civil and criminal proceedings.