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
It’s a new era in the Alexandria Courthouse.
Greg Parks was sworn in as Clerk of the Alexandria Circuit Court on Thursday, and officially took the reins of an office that has more than 800 responsibilities, including the organization of land records and the issuance of marriage licenses.
“I will respect and value all the people who need services from my office and I will strive to make the office work better for more Alexandrians every day,” Parks said after being sworn in by Circuit Court Judge Lisa Kemler.
The 53-year-old Parks won the Democratic primary for the seat in June, and was uncontested in the general election in November. He takes over for Ed Semonian, who served in the role for five consecutive eight-year terms. Parks enters the office with a focus on improving customer service and making technological upgrades to courtrooms. He will also be tasked with the transition of 20 years of records to the Supreme Court of Virginia.
“We know that you have the same customer service focus that we have across the street at City Hall and that you will bring that same focus to serving our common constituents,” Mayor Justin Wilson told Parks.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter said that he considers himself fortunate to call himself Parks’ colleague and also his friend.
“I know that he will diligently and faithfully discharge the duties of his new office without fear or favor, that he will serve the public, the rule of law and the Constitution he just swore to uphold,” Porter said.
Parks was previously the chief counsel for the Civilian Board of Contract Appeals for eight years, and is a former attorney with the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the General Services Administration. He has lived in Alexandria since 2013 and is married to Assistant Commonwealth Attorney David Lord.