As storm Sandy moves across Pennsylvania today, Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille reported that the biggest impact so far from the storm for the state judiciary will be delays in cases from closing down prothonotaries’ offices and courthouses.
The storm will “hurt the system with less efficient disposition of cases,” Castille said.
For the appellate courts, the prothonotary for the Eastern and Middle Districts of Pennsylvania closed Monday and today. The prothonotary for the Western District closed today but not Monday. The First Judicial District also closed Monday and today.
Closing the courts has a huge impact, Castille said, because rescheduling cases, especially in high-volume Philadelphia, results in a ripple effect of delays. In terms of criminal cases, delays in those listings increase prison overcrowding and raise the likelihood that the system will run afoul of speedy trial rules for defendants, the chief justice said.
But the circumstances of an act of God, or force majeure, will likely make it so that delays attributable to storm Sandy can be excluded and not result in criminal defendants’ rights to speedy trials being violated or in civil plaintiffs running afoul of the statute of limitations, Castille said.
“In Philadelphia, you have a huge number of cases,” said Castille, the liaison justice to the FJD. “If you lose one day it takes a significant impact.”
Castille said that the state judiciary would learn the full impact of the storm Wednesday.
On Wednesday, the judiciary should know if any of the president judges of each judicial district will be exercising their rights under the judiciary’s continuity of operations plan under which the president judges can request help from other counties or move trials to other counties, Castille said.
“We will see tomorrow if it’s in effect or if any counties have invoked it,” Castille said.
The judiciary will also learn if flooding in the upper branches of the Susquehanna River will be impacting any of the courthouses, including the Pennsylvania Judicial Center in Harrisburg, Castille said.
Castille said he was “worried about … the amount of rain in the upper amount of state.”
Read more about it in Thursday’s Legal.