Concerns about delays of up to five days for accused offenders waiting for bond hearings may lead to a plan to make judges available even when courthouses are closed for long periods.
Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald W. Lemons said he would assemble a group to consider on-call judges for time-sensitive hearings.
The issue arose May 7 in a routine discussion about the holiday schedule for Virginia courts. The July 4th holiday this year falls on a Thursday, so the Committee on District Courts was considering approving a day off for July 5th, as well.
State Sen. Ryan McDougle said he would vote for that schedule, but he worried about someone arrested on July 3 who might have to wait until July 8 to get a bond hearing. The same concern applies for the long Thanksgiving weekend.
One judge said the issue can arise when bad weather shutters a courthouse for extended periods. Lemons – chairing the meeting – agreed that extended court closures can be a problem.
“As a judge, that’s always concerned me,” he said. He suggested an on-call system, possibly with judges rotating on a list.
“It would seem to me to go a long way to deal with that problem. You could get a motion heard.”
McDougle said both bond motions and protective orders were areas of concern about timely hearings.
Making judges available would be the easy part, said Chesterfield County General District Judge Pamela O’Berry. She said the difficulty would be the logistics of getting clerks and sheriff’s deputies to run a court hearing. Virginia Beach Juvenile and Domestic Relations Judge Tanya Bullock said technology might be the solution, with participants on video.
While acknowledging the issue doesn’t arise very often, McDougle said, “It’s not how many numbers – It’s your liberty at stake.”
He said perhaps judges could be cross-designated, so that four or five judges could handle the whole state on long weekends.
Lemons said he would assemble a group to look at the issue. “Stay tuned,” he said.