Chief Justice Rhys S. Hodge today signed an administrative order providing for the resumption of certain operations of the Judicial Branch of the Virgin Islands. The order, which goes into effect immediately, provides for a gradual resumption of court proceedings.
“Although the courts of the Virgin Islands remained open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, our ability to serve the public was necessarily impacted,” Hodge said after signing the order. “The Judicial Branch will now, along with the rest of the government, begin the process of resuming its ordinary operations to the maximum extent it can while ensuring the safety of the public, court staff and judicial officers.”
Beginning June 1, all proceedings other than jury trials, bench trials and certain substantive hearings will be heard remotely, with calendar preference given to criminal and other priority cases. In-person court proceedings will resume starting June 15, with the exception of trials, which will resume on Aug. 1.
Even when authorized, in-person hearings will only be held if it is possible to hold the hearing while complying with social distancing protocols, federal and territorial public health regulations, and the policies enacted by the Judicial Branch Administrative Office.
To ensure the safety of all judicial officers, court personnel and the public, the administrator of courts shall adopt and implement protocols necessary to permit in-person hearings to resume on June 15. Such protocols include, but are not necessarily limited to, sanitation of common and high-traffic areas; erection of appropriate physical barriers and placement of social distancing tape; health screenings for those entering Judicial Branch facilities; implementation of federal and territorial public health guidelines; and appropriate training for judicial officers and court personnel in the proper use and implementation of such protocols.
The administrative order implements the recommendations of the Virgin Islands Judicial Branch Task Force, which submitted its report on May 27. The report, which is available on the Judicial Branch’s website at www.vicourts.org, recommends the adoption of four modes to chart the Judicial Branch’s progress, with the complete suspension of all non-essential operations on one end and the full resumption of normal operations on the other.
“Based on its review of Judicial Branch operations, the task force believes that the judiciary is presently in a transition between the second and third mode, but it has the capacity to transition to the third mode by June 15 if certain conditions are met,” said Judge Denise M. Francois, Judicial Branch Task Force chair, in her transmittal letter to Chief Justice Hodge.
“I would like to thank you and all the members and reporters the V.I. Judicial Branch COVID-19 Task Force for producing such a thorough and comprehensive report in such a short amount of time,” Judge Hodge said to Judge Francois after receiving the report. “The information in this report will greatly assist the judiciary on its path to the full resumption of operations,” he said.
In addition to providing for the resumption of court proceedings, the administrative order extends most court deadlines as well as the expiration date of certain temporary restraining orders, injunctions and stays through June 14; it excludes the 84-day period from March 23 through June 14, from certain calculations, such as the time to file a notice of appeal or to effectuate service of process.
The administrative order specifies, however, that no further automatic extensions of time shall be given. The order also continues the stay on execution of orders of eviction and orders of foreclosure through June 14, but it authorizes foreclosures and evictions to resume beginning June 15 if certain requirements are met, including a showing that a foreclosure or eviction would not be prohibited by the federal CARES Act or any other law.
The order also provides for the reinstatement of certain non-essential functions that had been suspended by prior administrative orders, such as the issuance of marriage licenses in the Superior Court.
The administrative order also suspends or modifies certain court rules that could be construed to impede the use of technology to eliminate or limit in-person contact, or which mandate the filing of paper documents or prohibit the filing of electronic documents.
Such rules include but are not limited to provisions of the Virgin Islands Rules of Civil Procedure requiring that depositions occur in-person unless court approval is obtained, and a provision of the Virgin Islands Rules of Appellate Procedure requiring paper copies of briefs and appendices that had already been filed electronically.
The order also extends modifications to court practices ordered in earlier administrative orders, including that the clerk of the Superior Court continues to accept electronic filings by e-mail.
Chief Justice Hodge also signed a separate administrative order scheduling the Virgin Islands Bar Examination for Sept. 30 to Oct. 1 to replace the July 2020 administration that had been canceled by prior order. The September 2020 exam will be administered in accordance with federal and territorial public health regulations, and it may be subject to capacity restrictions. The order further continues several previously-enacted modifications to the bar admissions rules and directs that the Office of Bar Admissions resume active processing of all bar applications.
The Judicial Branch reminds its employees and the public to follow CDC guidelines in response to this pandemic and to remain vigilant in social distancing. The public is also reminded that in accordance with previously established emergency schedules, many Judicial Branch employees continue to work remotely, and public traffic to court facilities remains limited.
However, as the Judicial Branch transitions to expanded services, several of its main telephone numbers are now reachable as follows:
St. Croix District
Superior Court 778-9750
Probation and Pre-Trial Services 713-6642
St. Thomas-St. John District
Superior Court 774-6680
Probation and Pre-Trial Services 693-6429
Supreme Court 774-2237
Office of Disciplinary Counsel 693-4127
Filings to the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands continue to be accepted at the following email addresses:
Advice of Rights and Arraignments: [email protected]
Complex Litigation Filings: [email protected]
All other filings: [email protected]
Conventional filings continue to be accepted via drop box at all Superior Court locations and at the Supreme Court located in Crown Bay St. Thomas.
For more information, contact:
Regina Petersen, Administrator of Courts
Judicial Branch of the Virgin Islands
P.O. Box 590
St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands 00804
Fax: 774‐2258/ TTY: 693-4118