Coronavirus (COVID-19): Going to Court On Your Own During the Pandemic

Last Updated On: 5/23/2020 10:44:14 AM
The coronavirus (COVID-19) is affecting our lives in ways that are changing quickly. You might be wondering how it will affect your court case. The West Virginia court system is still working, but it is working differently.  If you are representing yourself in court, read this article to learn more about how your case may be impacted.

Is My Court Open? Will My Hearing be Held?

The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has issued several emergency orders telling courts how to best serve the public during the COVID-19 emergency.  From March 22 through May 18, 2020, many types of hearings were postponed or held remotely.  

The most recent order says that courts in West Virginia can start to have in person hearings again.  And all types of cases can move forward in the court system, not just emergencies.

Courts are still encouraged to hold hearings remotely, however, by videoconference or telephone. 

If you already have a case filed, you should contact the judge’s office to ask how your hearing will be held. 

If you would have a problem taking part in your hearing remotely by telelphone or internet, you should let the judge’s office know.  Or if you would have problems attending a hearing in person (for example, no childcare), you should let the judge’s office know. 

If you have a fever, symptoms of COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, DO NOT go to the courthouse. If you have a hearing, call and let the judge’s office know as soon as possible. 

What will in person hearings be like?

Following guidance from the CDC, for in person hearings, the Court’s order says that courts should:

  • Practice social distancing (spread out people in waiting areas and courtrooms).
  • Require everyone involved to wear masks in judicial offices and courtrooms.
  • Limit access to court waiting areas, clerk’s offices and other spaces.

Not every courthouse in West Virginia looks the same or will run the same way. Before going for an in person hearing, contact the Judge’s office or Clerk's office to learn more about how the courthouse and the court will run.  For example, in some counties the judge may want you to stay in your car until they call you to let you know they are ready for your hearing.   It is very important to follow all rules set out by the courthouse staff and the judge’s office.  

Go to the WV Supreme Court’s website to get contact information for the Magistrate, Circuit Court Judge or Family Court Judge you are supposed to visit.  

It is also important to check your mail, email, and voicemail.  A court may have been trying to reach you to tell you how to take part in an upcoming hearing.  

What if I have an in person hearing, and I don’t have a mask? 

If you have any type of cloth face covering, even a bandana, you should bring it.   The CDC has issued guidance about cloth face coverings.  It doesn’t have to be a medical grade mask.  The CDC says you can even make your own

The courthouse may also have some emergency masks available. But they may have a limited number.  If you really don’t have any type of cloth face covering, before you go, contact the judge’s office to see if they have some available at the courthouse.  

How do I prepare for a remote hearing?

To prepare for a hearing by phone or video, read this article.  

How will COVID-19 affect my case?

If you already have a case filed, be sure to check your email, mail, and voicemail regularly in case the court is trying to tell you how to take part in a hearing. 

Contact the judge’s office if you have questions.  But be patient- they will be very busy, because the court system has not been fully running the past few months.   They will have some catch up to do. 

Also, deadlines involved in your case might look different.  Deadlines in cases were affected by the Supreme Court’s orders in March, April and early May.  During that time, the days that are counted for deadlines were extended.  BUT, the most recent order says that the days for deadlines start counting again as of May 15, 2020.   If you have questions about deadlines, you should contact the judge’s office or try to talk to a lawyer. 

To learn more about different ways in which COVID-19 might affect a specific legal issue, like eviction, go to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Self-Help Library page.  

If you have a new legal problem and need help, call us or apply online instead of going to our local offices in person. If you already have a case with a Legal Aid lawyer, call instead of visiting in person.  Legal Aid of West Virginia offices are closed to the public, but staff there are still taking new applications for help and working with existing clients.  

This is general legal information. For guidance about your situation, talk to a lawyer.