The decision comes as a growing number of Americans find themselves struggling financially as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
The West Mesa Justice Court announced plans to pause eviction hearings throughout the month of March, citing a recent authorization to do so by the Arizona State Supreme Court.
The decision, announced in a statement by West Mesa Justice of the Peace Elaissia Sears Wednesday afternoon, extends the timeline for when newly-filed eviction cases will be heard by the court. Typically, state law requires trial dates for evictions to be within six calendar days of the filing. The court’s new policy pauses all hearings until March 30, meaning some cases will wait as long as 12 days to be heard in court.
“I understand it is a frustrating and difficult time for all of us,” Sears said in the statement. “In light of the Arizona Supreme Court’s Administrative Order and the information coming out of the Federal Government, the Arizona State Government and Maricopa County, there is a legal and moral basis for these decisions.”
Nationwide closures of businesses, events, and public gatherings in attempts to reduce the spread of the coronavirus have left millions of Americans struggling financially. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin announced Tuesday that if the government fails to step in, the country’s unemployment rate could reach up to 20% as a result of the virus.
The announcement made by Sears came shortly after the Trump Administration announced a suspension of all foreclosures and evictions by the federal government through the end of April. It is unclear if the suspension includes both public and private housing.
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego also enacted measures to curb a potential rise in evictions earlier this week. The city halted evictions in city-owned housing until further notice, citing financial hardships tenants may experience due to the coronavirus.
“This is the responsible thing to do to ensure people have access to shelter and sanitation,” Gallego tweeted. “The state should ensure this protection is extended to all Arizonans during this uncertain time.”
So far, Gov. Doug Ducey has not made any moves to halt evictions statewide. However, his declaration of a state of emergency over the coronavirus paved the path for Sears to pause evictions in her court.
After Ducey’s declaration, the Arizona State Supreme Court issued an administrative order outlining how the state of emergency would impact the state’s court systems. In the order, the justices gave local judges the ability to alter in-person proceedings to reduce health risks. It is under this pretense that Sears made her decision.
“Our priority here at the West Mesa Justice Court is to make sure everybody is safe,” Sears wrote. “I do believe this is the right course of action to take at this time.”
It is unclear how many other judges – if any – have enacted similar measures, or if there are any plans to halt evictions statewide. The Copper Courier reached out to the Arizona Judicial Branch for comment, but did not receive answers to these questions.
The order is in effect until March 31, at which time, court proceedings are expected to return to normal.
This is a developing story.