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Closed or open? Circuit courts on their own to decide for Dec. 30

If you have a legal document to file in circuit court by Dec. 30, you better check your local courthouse to see if the court will be open.

Many courts will close that day, two days before New Year’s Day, but some may not. Virginia circuit courts are on their own in determining whether to take Friday off. That means some court staffers could have to report for duty. Lawyers with a notice of appeal or other time-sensitive pleading due that day will have to either file early or check to see if the clerk’s office is going to be open.

The lights will be out in most other judicial offices. The Supreme Court of Virginia will be closed, and the Committee on District Courts determined to close all district courts on Dec. 30, according to Richmond Circuit Court Clerk Bevill Dean.

The 120 circuit courts of the commonwealth have to decide for themselves.

Some have already announced they will be closed. Fairfax County Circuit Court will be closed, said Chief Judge Dennis Smith. In Norfolk, Chief Judge Junius Fulton said that court will be closed. Lynchburg Circuit Court plans to close, according to court staffers.

But some judges and clerks read Va. Code § 17.1-207 to limit their options on whether to lock the courthouse doors. The statute would appear to allow closing of the circuit clerks’ offices only if there’s a local government holiday, for dangerous conditions, or if the governor declares a state holiday.

“We do not plan to be closed on the 30th unless the governor declares it a state holiday,” said Dean, clerk of Richmond Circuit Court. The same plan is in place in the Roanoke Valley’s 23rd Circuit, reported Chief Judge William Broadhurst.

The governor usually does declare a holiday in similar circumstances, Dean said, but only a few days in advance. “That’s usually where the sticky wicket comes in, because it’s awkward to get such short notice,” Dean said.

There may not be a last minute “reprieve” from the governor this year. “The 30th will not be a holiday. The holiday is being observed on Jan. 2,” said Jeff Caldwell, press secretary for Gov. Bob McDonnell.

All state courts are closing on Dec. 23 and 26 and Jan. 2.

By Peter Vieth

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