Statewide court shutdown won't affect PFAs, prohibits most home evictions

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
York County Judicial Center

Last week's statewide COVID-19 shutdown of Pennsylvania courts to the public won't affect urgent matters in York County, including the issuance of protection from abuse orders and the processing of newly arrested people.

The state Supreme Court also said in its Wednesday order that residents can't be evicted from their homes for failure to pay during the judicial emergency, according to a news release from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.

Also closed to the public are district judge offices in York County and across the state. The statewide order lasts through Friday, April 3.

But York County President Judge Joseph C. Adams said  Thursday evening that York County's courts will be closed through and including Tuesday, April 14, because the Supreme Court's order allowed him to extend the closure.

York County  also is deeming permanent PFA hearings essential, whereas the Supreme Court's order dealt only with temporary PFA hearings, Adams told The York Dispatch.

It's essential that people at risk of domestic violence are able to access court-ordered protection, he said.

In all other respects, York County's courts are following the Supreme Court order, according to Adams.

York County President Judge Joseph C. Adams

Fewer judges: "We have reduced the number of judges coming into the (judicial center) on any given day and their staff," he said.

At most, there will be five common pleas judges in the building, and on other days perhaps just two, depending on the number of emergency cases that need to be heard, according to the president judge.

The Supreme Court ordered that both common pleas courts and magisterial district courts will continue to perform "essential functions."

On the magisterial district judge level, that means people arrested for crimes will still have their preliminary arraignments, during which their charges are explained to them and they have their bail set by a district judge. That is expected to be done largely by video.

York County Sheriff Rich Keuerleber said on Thursday that county officials, the county's police chiefs and York County Prison "have all pulled together" in regard to doing what they can to ensure the safety of the public and employees.

Booking unit: More criminal cases are being handled by summonses where possible, he said, but noted that the York County Central Booking Unit remains open.

The booking unit already uses two-way video conferencing technology for preliminary arraignments, and all of York County's district judges have that capability as well, Keuerleber said.

The sheriff said at this point none of his deputies or office employees has become sickened by COVID-19.

Deputies are still transporting prisoners as needed, he said.

York County Sheriff Rich Keuerleber

The state Supreme Court's order says essential common pleas court functions that will continue include emergency bail reviews, parole/probation violation hearings, juvenile hearings regarding emergency shelter and detentions, bench warrant hearings, emergency petitions for child custody and guardianship, civil mental-health reviews and anything a president judge deems to be essential, according to AOPC's news release.

In addition to preliminary arraignments, essential magisterial district court functions include criminal case filings, preliminary hearings for incarcerated defendants and the issuance of search warrants, according to the news release.

Rule 600 suspended: The Supreme Court has  suspended court deadlines through April 3 and suspended Rule 600 across the state.

Known as the "speedy trial rule," Rule 600 guarantees criminal defendants the right to a trial within a year after being charged, not including continuances or delays requested by the defense. It also guarantees that if a case hasn't made its way to trial within 180 days, not including defense delays, a defendant can be released on nominal bail, meaning $1.

People can still make payments online or by mail, or over the phone where possible, according to the news release.

— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.