The fourth nor’easter of March has brought yet another round of closures to state and federal courts in Kent and New Castle counties on Wednesday, as heavy snow and strong winds pounded the area throughout the day.
For the third time this year, Delaware’s district and Bankruptcy Courts were forced to shut their doors in anticipation of the early spring storm, which was expected to dump between 7 and 13 inches of snow in Wilmington, according to the National Weather Service.
Gov. John Carney on Tuesday night ordered the Delaware Court of Chancery and all other state courts in New Castle County closed on Wednesday, with the exception for the 24-hour Justice of the Peace Court 11.
The courts in Kent County opened for business Wednesday morning, but Carney sent state employees home at noon, and conditions were expected to intensify throughout the all-day snow event. The National Weather Service predicted 4 to 8 inches of snow to fall in the county by the time the storm was expected to finally move out Wednesday night.
Carney declared a state of emergency, authorizing the National Guard to mobilize resources to assist in the state’s response to the storm and potential downstate flooding. The Delaware General Assembly, meanwhile, canceled all of its legislative business for the day.
Snowfall was heaviest in the afternoon, and wind gusts topped 30 miles per hour in both counties, according to the National Weather Service.
State courts in Sussex County remained open at noon on Wednesday. It was not immediately clear how the weather would affect state and federal court operations on Thursday. The storm was expected to subside by early Thursday morning.
U.S. District Chief judge Leonard P. Stark of the District of Delaware made the decision to close the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware largely out of concern for the safety of the public and court employees, who would have had to traverse snow-packed streets, slippery sidewalks and bitter winds in order to reach the building at 844 N. King St.
However, for one of the nation’s busiest district courts, taking the day off is rarely an option.
Judges and essential court employees often continue their work through the storm, either working remotely of braving the conditions to reach their offices. Attorneys took advantage of the court’s e-filing system to submit case filings, albeit at lower volumes than on typical days.
Still, court closures can cause headaches when scheduled trials and hearings are scrapped for the day, forcing judges and attorneys to adjust their schedules.
The premier federal criminal case of the day, the Wilmington Trust trial, came to a brief halt Wednesday, midway through the second week of what is scheduled to be an eight-week trial. A defense attorney said he expected the trial to resume on Thursday.
While federal court closures are left to the discretion of chief judges, Delaware state courts follow executive-level directives for closings due to bad weather.
But judges on the Chancery Court face similarly demanding caseloads on the country’s pre-eminent business court. Often known to work on weekends, they are expected to continue reading and writing opinions, despite the weather.
A winter storm warning remained in effect until 2 a.m. on Thursday.
Wednesday marked the third time this year that courts in Delaware were forced to shutter operations because of bad weather. Similar closures occurred Jan. 4 and just two weeks ago, on March 7.
The first day of spring was Tuesday.