By Charlie Deitch
Pittsburgh Current Editor
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court filed an order late today declaring a judicial emergency and shutting down all courts in the commonwealth to the public until April 3. The order takes effect at the end of business on Thursday, March 19.
The Fifth Judicial Court in Allegheny County severely reduced the court’s role on Monday. However according to the Supre Court’s order:
Significant and material events have transpired since the prior Orders were filed,” the court wrote. “The federal government has issued guidance suggesting an immediate need for extraordinary nationwide measures, for example, that gatherings of more than ten individuals are to be avoided.
This afternoon, the Pennsylvania Secretary of Health urged this Court to consider statewide closure of the courts, except for essential services, for a period of approximately 14 days in order to further restrict the amount of person-to-person contact and mitigate the spread of COVID-19. And this Court is cognizant of the nature of court proceedings, during which individuals who may be carrying the virus with or without symptoms – including court staff, attorneys, litigants, other court participants and members of the public – may come into close proximity with other persons.
The court ordered that all relevant court business, as well as any time deadlines, are suspended. The court encouraged the use of “advanced communication technology” to hold court proceedings in all districts.
The court did list examples of essential matters that could continue. They include election matters, children’s fast-track matters, matters “credibly labeled as emergency filings” and anything else deemed essential by a President Judge.
Essential common pleas court functions include emergency bail review, bench warrant hearings, juvenile delinquency detention, protection from abuse orders, emergency child custody matters and any matter relating to a public health concern.”