Lancaster County President Judge David Ashworth has issued a new judicial order extending a suspension of court business until April 30 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The move coincides with a similar order from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court as well as President Donald Trump earlier this week.
Under the order, civil and criminal jury and nonjury trials are suspended, and public access to the courthouse has been further restricted.
“I think we probably all expected that the order going through April 15 would be extended, especially given the president's comments at the beginning of the week,” said Shawnee Strasko, a Lancaster-based family law attorney. “Clients are frustrated, but there's no one to be frustrated with, which is more frustrating.”
Compliance with child custody orders under COVID-19 restrictions has been on the minds of many attorneys and parents subject to such orders, which may require them to transport children or meet in public places for exchanges. Under Ashworth's order, only emergency custody motions are being heard at the moment.
Strasko said that it has been difficult for her clients, with temporary orders being extended, and she is hearing the same in conversations with colleagues around the state.
“All of us are getting multiple calls saying ‘I think my house is safer,’” she said.
Attorneys in other practice areas are also noting changes brought by the coronavirus response.
Christopher Patterson, a Lancaster criminal defense lawyer who has been practicing since 1978, said societal restrictions have hurt private attorneys, financially and in other ways.
“It’s very difficult for me, especially at my age to conduct a practice online,” he said. “And I think clients like seeing a lawyer face-to-face.”
Changes to the court system because of coronavirus will impact more than just lawyers and their clients. When the pandemic has passed, courts will reopen and deal with all the cases that have been suspended.
“I think its going to be very difficult for court personnel to catch up on that,” Strasko said. “I think we are going to have a log jam of people trying to get back in and schedule things.”