By Terry Harris
On July 1, 2021, Sussex County resumed holding jury trials in its own courtroom spaces rather than at the Golden Leaf Commons in Greensville County where proceedings had been held in recent months. This came after the Virginia Supreme Court lifted some of the restrictions formerly imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic with its Twenty Fourth Order on June 29 extending the Declaration of Emergency in response to the COVID-19 emergency.
Since the first Order was issued on March 16, 2020, at the onset of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, the Chief Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court has issued a total of 24 Orders related to the virus. This most recent one is the first significant change in the restrictions since Governor Ralph S. Northam issued Executive Order Number 51, Declaration of a State of Emergency Due to Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19), on March 12, 2020.
The new order, as Sussex County Commonwealth’s Attorney Vincent Robertson explained recently, allows the Chief Judges of each circuit to exercise their discretion concerning holding jury trials. The following excerpt, which Robertson shared from the most recent Virginia Supreme Court Declaration of Judicial Emergency, applies to all circuit and district courts of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
“Chief judges and presiding judges of all courts should exercise their discretion in determining how best to safely operate their respective courts, including how to safely conduct jury trials, and, in doing so, may follow the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Virginia Department of Health, with respect to safety protocols, including physical distancing and capacity restrictions and requiring a mask covering the mouth and nose. All courts and security personnel shall continue to screen individuals entering the courthouse if recommended, and to the extent recommended, by the Virginia Department of Health. Speedy trial deadlines continue to be tolled.”
“I am delighted to be back in the courthouse,” Robertson exclaimed. “The new Order could not have come at a better time. We have a number of jury trials coming up this year. I am glad that our county residents, including prospective jurors, need not travel outside our county to Greensville County for trials anymore. “
Robertson reported that he is working closely with Sussex County Clerk Gary Williams, Sheriff Ernest Giles and Judge Edward Tomko, the Chief Judge of the 6th Judicial Circuit, to maintain public health and safety in the Sussex Courthouse.
“Our first jury trial is scheduled for July 22 and 23,” Robertson added, “and we are ready to go.”