U.S. Courts News: Judiciary Preparedness for #Coronavirus (COVID-19)

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Judiciary Preparedness for Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Note: This page was last updated at 7 p.m. on March 24, 2020.

Federal courts are individually coordinating with state and local health officials to obtain local information about the coronavirus (COVID-19), and some have issued orders relating to court business, operating status, and public and employee safety.

The Judiciary will also provide a regular updates on this page with the latest information.

March 24, 2020 Update

West Virginia

Citing the lack of adequate testing available to know the full extent of the spread of COVID-19, the chief judge for the Southern District of West Virginia has ordered the closing of all courthouses in the district and a postponement of most civil and criminal proceedings.

West Virginia was the one of the last states to report confirmed cases of the respiratory disease, and its courts are now experiencing the same types of threats as those in other states.  Chief Judge Thomas E. Johnston wrote in a March 23 order, “There is understandable concern that inadequate testing available at this time to monitor the transmission of the disease makes it likely that the disease is substantially more widespread than it appears. Moreover, West Virginia has a relatively high elderly population and greater incidence of other medical conditions that can make individuals more vulnerable to the virus.”


In other recent developments, the District of Northern California closed the Robert F. Peckham Federal Building in San Jose to both the public and staff after discovering that a person who visited the courthouse on three occasions in mid-March was subsequently treated for COVID-19. The district, located in one of the epicenters of the pandemic in the United States, earlier this month closed all its courthouses to the public until May 1, although some proceedings are being conducted. The San Jose courthouse is closed to both the public and staff until April 7.


In Hawaii, the district court is closed to the public until May 3, but like many other federal courts, it also is making accommodations to ensure continued media and public access to court proceedings. “Civil and criminal hearings will be conducted on a toll-free teleconference line, and that teleconference line will be available to members of the public and the media, to the extent practicable,” wrote Chief Judge Michael Seabright in a March 23 order. “Dial-in information will be available on each case’s individual docket on PACER, and further instructions can be found on the court’s website.”

March 23, 2020 Update

The federal courthouse in Springfield, Massachusetts was ordered closed until further notice, after a court employee exhibited “symptoms consistent with COVID-19.” The district is working to maintain court operations during the building closure.

A growing number of courts are conducting most or all proceedings through electronic means, such as video conferences and telephone conference calls.

The District of Nevada said it is “striving to eliminate in-person court appearances.”  A March 19 order said, “In the event that a hearing must go forward, the Court will attempt to conduct the hearing by video conference or telephone (with the defendant’s consent in criminal cases), and the courtroom will be closed. Members of the public may call in to listen to a scheduled hearing on the phone line provided for each hearing.”

March 20, 2020 Update

James C. Duff, director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, urged courts to enact several measures to protected public safety. “I strongly urge all of you to exercise flexibility and compassion in accommodating staff needs,” he wrote.

The March 19 guidance specifically recommended the following:

  • Permit as many employees as is practicable to telework.
  • Postpone all courthouse proceedings with more than 10 people, such as naturalization ceremonies.
  • Conduct in-person court proceedings only when absolutely necessary.  Utilize videoconferencing or audioconferencing capabilities where practicable.
  • Conduct jury proceedings only in exceptional circumstances.
  • Limit the number of family members who attend proceedings.
  • Stagger scheduling of critical court proceedings to reduce the number of people in seating galleries, wells of courtrooms, conference rooms, and public waiting areas; and
  • Limit staff at critical courtroom proceedings to fewer than 10 people, and ensure that they are at least six feet apart.

In other developments, two courthouses were closed after it was confirmed that someone in the courthouse had contracted the virus.

The Middle District of Pennsylvania closed the Harrisburg courthouse “until further notice.” According to a March 18 order, “a federal law enforcement agent resident in the Harrisburg Courthouse has tested positive for COVID-19 and that several other individuals who were exposed to this agent are exhibiting symptoms consistent with COVID-19.”

The District of Delaware has closed its space, also “until further notice,” in the J. Caleb Boggs U.S. Courthouse and Federal Building in Wilmington. According to a March 19 order, an attorney who appeared before the court was diagnosed as having coronavirus (COVID-19).

The Northern District of California announced free public access to media and public for teleconference audio of civil hearings. Media and public also will be permitted to attend criminal proceedings.

March 19, 2020 Update

The District of Maryland has temporarily suspended all in-court proceedings in the Southern Division courthouse in Greenbelt, and moved all emergency criminal, civil, and bankruptcy matters related to public safety, public health and welfare, and individual liberty to the Northern Division courthouse in Baltimore. The order by Chief Judge James K. Bredar said that “consolidating court operations in one division will conserve scarce court and court-related agency resources, reduce the number of staff required to enter courthouses in this district, and allow for more effective, focused, and efficient health screening measures.”

General Order

March 18, 2020 Update

The federal courthouse in Rome, Georgia has been closed to the public after an employee fell ill with symptoms that suggest the possibility of COVID-19. Judge Harold L. Murphy, of the Northern District of Georgia, ordered the Rome courthouse closed until further notice to ensure, “to the extent possible, the health and safety of judges, court, and agency staff, and members of the public.”

General Order

March 17, 2020 Update

The Northern District of California has closed four federal courthouses to the public until May 1, under a March 16 order signed by Chief Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton. It was the first mass closing of federal courthouses since the Judiciary began its response to the coronavirus COVID-19 emergency.

Courthouses were closed at the following locations:

  • Phillip Burton Federal Building, San Francisco;
  • Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building, Oakland;
  • Robert F. Peckham Federal Building, San Jose; and
  • The U.S. Courthouse in McKinleyville.

Other Background

Nationally, the federal Judiciary is working together and closely with a number of federal agencies to monitor and share information.

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO) organized a task force, which includes representatives from the General Services Administrative, the U.S. Marshals Service, Federal Occupational Health, and other federal partners as a single point of contact to share information and guidance related to the coronavirus outbreak as it relates to the Judiciary. The AO is also providing courts, probation and pretrial offices, and defender services organizations with human resources, budget, and other guidance and continual updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Please note the following changes to other Judiciary programs:

Find the latest on COVID-19 and preventative measures to take from the CDC

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