A judge at Hampton’s busiest court on Friday pushed this week’s traffic cases forward by three months and delayed most criminal hearings in light of a recent spike in the city’s COVID-19 rate.
The new restrictions — similar to the limitations put in place after the pandemic began last year — are designed to curb the coronavirus’ spread in Hampton.
“It is hereby ORDERED that NON-ESSENTIAL, NON-EMERGENCY court proceedings in Hampton General District Court be and hereby are SUSPENDED through February 1, 2021,” Judge Tonya Henderson Stith wrote in an order posted on the court’s glass doorway.
Hampton’s positivity rate — the number of positive COVID-19 tests as a percentage of the total tests given — was at about 25 percent over a 14-day period a few weeks ago, according to State Health Department numbers. Though the rate has recently dropped to about 18 percent, it’s still a cause for concern.
“I think the judges wanted to be a little proactive, to see if there was something they could do to help,” Clerk of Court James M. Smith said Monday. “We are trying to help by reducing the amount of foot traffic we have coming into court.”
He confirmed that an employee at the courthouse recently tested positive for the virus.
Traffic cases scheduled for this week have been delayed until April, Smith said, while most criminal hearings and contested civil cases slated for this week also have been postponed.
Hearings that can’t easily be delayed — such as bond hearings, arraignments of jailed inmates and emergency protective orders — will go forward as planned.
“We’re still proceeding with all of the stuff that needs to be addressed immediately,” Smith said.
Bond hearings and arraignments are being conducted by videoconference, with two-way hookups from the jails. The hearings that are going forward are limited to the parties, attorneys, witnesses and members of the media, Stith’s order says.
Cases involving tenants trying to stay in their homes in the face of evictions will also proceed, the order says. Other matters can be heard at the judge’s discretion and “upon agreement of all parties, attorneys and witnesses” using an electronic system.
The General District Court dockets are expected to resume their normal schedules next week.
Stith’s order says the clerk’s office will remain open this week from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., with standard coronavirus protocols in place. But Smith said people are encouraged to prepay traffic tickets online, and drop boxes are available in the first floor lobby for dropping off paperwork in lieu of going to the clerk’s office.
Payment arrangements to pay off fines and court fees are being made by phone, with paperwork sent out to the person to sign and send back in.
“We’re trying to do as much stuff as we can remotely,” Smith said. “Our staff is kind of running at a minimum, what we need to actually function day to day.”
The clerk’s office can be reached at 757-727-6260.
Peter Dujardin, 757-247-4749, firstname.lastname@example.org