The D.C. Superior Court has shut down all proceedings except those “deemed absolutely essential” after a deputy U.S. marshal stationed at the courthouse tested positive for COVID-19.
Court spokeswoman Leah Gurowitz said in a statement Wednesday that the U.S. Marshals Service notified the Washington, D.C., court of the diagnosis late Tuesday.
“As a result, we immediately notified those court staff who may have had contact with the deputy marshal and had both courtrooms and the holding cells that adjoin them thoroughly cleaned and disinfected,” she said, adding that the entire cellblock is being “thoroughly cleaned.”
D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge Robert Morin briefed the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council of the developments on a conference call early Wednesday. That council, an independent group that works on criminal justice issues in D.C., includes interim U.S. Attorney Timothy Shea, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, Federal Bureau of Prisons director Michael Carvajal and Robert Dixon, the U.S. Marshal for the D.C. Superior Court.
“The well-being of our employees, other professionals who work at the court buildings, and the public are important and carefully considered as we make decisions about limiting our operations,” Morin said in a statement. “D.C. Superior Court has a responsibility to ensure that emergency matters are handled but also to postpone any non-urgent hearings.”
D.C. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby, chair of the D.C. Courts Joint Committee on Judicial Administration, said in a statement that the committee issued an order granting both her and Morin emergency authority “to take needed steps during this public health crisis to extend deadlines and make other necessary changes to court operations and court rules to address the coronavirus risk.”
“The D.C. Courts are endeavoring to meet emergency needs of the community, while minimizing exposure risk to the greatest extent possible,” Blackburne-Rigsby said.
Gurowitz said the D.C. Superior Court is keeping open its adult arraignment courtroom as well as its juvenile intake courtroom, which handles arrests of minors and cases of families where a child is removed over abuse or neglect.
“Additionally, the D.C. Superior Court has just a few other courtrooms operational, handling emergency matters and processing persons who have been arrested. To minimize the risk of exposure, the D.C. Courts have limited court operations to those deemed absolutely essential to protect public health and safety,” Gurowitz said.
On Wednesday evening, Morin issued an order that “further reduced the number of courtrooms that will be operational” at the D.C. Superior Court.
That order allows for adult arraignments and presentments to take place in one courtroom, juvenile, neglect and abuse initial hearings in another, emergency matters to be held in two separate courtrooms, as well as extraditions and judge in chambers proceedings. “Show cause hearings will come before the judge hearing criminal emergency matters,” the court’s website reads.
The D.C. Superior Court had taken some actions to address the public health issues caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Morin on Monday issued an emergency order allowing police and prosecutors to release individuals that would have otherwise been detained, citing coronavirus concerns.
Citation arraignments also were postponed, and evictions are suspended.
Blackburne-Rigsby on Monday also said all D.C. Court of Appeals arguments scheduled through March 31 are canceled.
Advocates are warning that conditions in prisons and jails will facilitate the spread of coronavirus among the incarcerated and are urging officials to take action, including considering the release of those who are detained.
The Washington, D.C., federal courthouse, located across the street, has also effectively shuttered over the coronavirus. Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell on Monday ordered all proceedings postponed until April 17, unless an individual judge orders otherwise, and all trials pushed off until May 11.