The Alexandria Courthouse is nearly empty as Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter leads a skeleton crew through the COVID-19 pandemic.
All jury trials have stopped, multitudes of cases have been continued between 30 and 60 days, and the clerk’s office is doing business by appointment only. In fact, staff at the courthouse said the earliest appointment to view public documents in the clerk’s office is April 26.
Porter’s staff 35 employees and interns has been whittled down to four essential staffers, while the remainder work from home.
“Please have patience if people need something from my office, if they’re expecting a response to an email or a phone inquiry,” Porter said.
“We are dealing with an extremely small number of people who are currently coming to work,” he added, “we will respond because we have a duty to the public, to the people who work in the courthouse, to the people charged with crimes who are part of the community, and we’ve got to make sure that people are not languishing in jail without access to the courts and bond hearings and that sort of thing. We’re here doing our job.”
The office is now only having arraignments for people arrested by the police department, although Porter said that arrests are down significantly.
“It really only seems to be cases in which there’s violence, like domestic violence or otherwise,” he said. “We’ve worked really hard with both the sheriff and the public defender’s office in the courts to really err on the side of release, and to really do our best to let anyone out from pretrial incarceration — if that can be consistent with the public safety, so we’re really working on getting that jail population down, which is better for the people charged with a crime and better for the people working in the jail.”
Porter said that there will be backlog of thousands of traffic and other cases once the court reopens.
“For the first four to eight weeks s after we’re back to some sense of normalcy the dockets are going to be large and we’re going to have a lot of time to get down there and try to get through those cases,” he said.
Porter said that dealing with an uncertain future is a challenging aspect of the pandemic.
“We’re just not sure when we’re going to crest the wave, but I have every belief that we will be able to find a way through and we’ll make it work,” he said. “It’s going to be difficult for the defense bar, it’ll be difficult for the judges and for law enforcement and the sheriff’s and everybody else, but we’re here and you know we’re committed to the mission and I think we’ll get through it.”
Staff photo by James Cullum