The Lead

Pa. Supreme Court orders lower courts to resume more operations starting May 4

By: - April 28, 2020 2:17 pm

Pennsylvania Supreme Court chambers in Harrisburg (Capital-Star photo)

With parts of Pennsylvania headed toward a scheduled reopening next week, the state’s highest court is telling county courts to restore “a wider range of operations,” starting May 4, while “giving priority to critical matters and remaining focused on protecting the health and safety of court users, personnel and the public.”

“Courts play a central role in our constitutional democracy, and it’s important to ensure that they are available to those seeking vindication of their rights or resolution of disputes,” state Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Saylor said in a statement released Tuesday.  “The COVID-19 health emergency has forced everyone to adapt, and courts have quickly adjusted to handle a wide range of matters remotely.”

State courts have been operating, under significant restrictions since March 16. Under an order issued Tuesday, all courts “generally shall be open to conduct all court business,” starting next week. But, “all in-person access and proceedings shall be strictly limited.”

According to Tuesday’s statement by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, the statewide suspension of time calculations and deadlines “provided for in the court’s previous orders will end effective May 11, 2020,” and  “president judges are given substantial discretion in the enforcement of deadlines, with due regard for public safety.”

A block on the “dispossession of property are extended until May 11, at which point they will end,” but “there may be restraints on some actions related to dispossession of property imposed by other sources, including the federal CARES Act,” the statement reads.

The court released more information filings, time limitations and deadlines, including:

  • “Suspension of time calculations and deadlines outlined in the Court’s previous Orders will end May 11, 2020;
  • Prior orders related to payments to Magisterial District Courts are extended until May 11, 2020.
  • Court filings should be by means other than in-person delivery whenever possible;
  • Self-represented litigants or attorneys who believe the enforcement of time deadlines pose a danger to health and safety may file a certification with the court for consideration;
  • Attorneys are encouraged to conduct depositions remotely; and
  • Deposition of and required appearances for doctors, nurses, or other healthcare professionals substantially involved in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic are suspended through June 1.”

Jury trials, for both civil and criminal matters remain on indefinite hold and will be scheduled “for a date in the future,” the statement reads. An overall statewide judicial emergency, declared in March, has been extended to June 1, according to the statement.

Read the court’s full order below:

Pennsylvania Supreme Court … by jmicek on Scribd

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.