San Juan County Superior and District Courts are taking immediate steps to address public health concerns raised by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in Washington. The virus poses a risk to members of the public who need to conduct court business, as well as to court staff and attorneys.
Starting Tuesday, March 17 all jury trials are postponed, and other civil and criminal court procedures are being modified to comply with health agency recommendations on social distancing.
The Superior and District Courts have each entered emergency orders outlining the new procedures, which are available on their websites. All jury trials in both courts will be continued until at least May 1, 2020. Anyone summoned for jury duty before May 1 is excused from service.
The Courts are limiting in-person appearances as much as possible while seeking to ensure parties access to justice. Superior Court hearings on civil motions, including family law cases and dependencies, will be held by telephone or without oral argument, as the party asking for relief chooses. In District Court, all infraction and small claims hearings will be postponed until May.
Criminal hearings in Superior Court, including in juvenile cases and Adult Drug Court, will be held in-person as normally scheduled. Civil protection order hearings in both Superior and District Court will also proceed in-person until further notice, but parties may appear by telephone upon request.
Criminal matters in District Court that are not jury trials will be held as previously scheduled, but the hearings will be held in the larger Superior Court courtroom to allow more room for social distancing. Defendants can also request permission to appear telephonically.
Anyone who is sick or has signs of illness is ordered not to come to court, and instead notify their attorney and the court that they are ill.
Both courts now have options available to file documents by email or fax, instead of submitting paper documents to the clerk’s offices. Courtesy copies for the judges should be provided by email if possible.
Finally, the District Court Clerk’s Office is limiting the hours the front counter is open to the public. The front counter will now only be open from 10:00 am. to 2:00 pm. Anyone who needs to file a petition for a protection order can still ring the bell for service during normal business hours, 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Anyone who needs to make payments for parking tickets, infractions, or court cases is encouraged to use the payment deposit box.
These changes are in response to local and statewide recommendations on preventing the spread of COVID-19. As of March 16, there are over 900 confirmed cases in Washington and 48 death have been attributed to the virus. While there are not yet any confirmed cases in San Juan County, there are confirmed cases in nearby counties of Whatcom, Skagit, Island, Snohomish, and Jefferson. Governor Jay Inslee has prohibited public gatherings of 50 or more people. The San Juan County Department of Health and Community Services has recommended postponing gatherings of 10 people or more.
San Juan County Superior and District Courts will continue to evaluate the need for further changes as circumstances require. The courts ask the public for their help in reducing the spread of COVID-19 and protecting the health of our community.