Local courts delay trials, hearings and invoke social distancing for public
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — The wheels of justice are known for turning slowly, but they might not seem to move at all in the next few weeks — or months — as California’s Superior Courts that include several in El Dorado County react to the coronavirus saga.
All jury trials previously set immediately and through April 16 have been vacated, so anyone having received a summons for that time period will not need to appear but will be subject to a re-summons at a later date, according to an emergency directive made public Wednesday and signed by El Dorado County’s presiding judge, Suzanne Kingsbury.
The judge’s order also addresses other pending criminal matters before the local courts, including those at South Lake Tahoe, with defendants accused of misdemeanor crimes not having to appear for pretrial proceedings — the court dictates that only the defendant’s attorney should appear.
Criminal defendants who are out of custody and have court proceedings scheduled between now through April 16 will have continuances granted, according to the judge’s order. That legal delay must be accompanied by the defendant’s signature on a required form; defendants should consult their attorney to be certain it’s handled correctly.
All preliminary hearings, court trials (judge only; no jury required), contested hearings of any sort and jury trials where time has been waived and are pending between now and April 30 are vacated. The court will reset hearings for later dates; counsel may contact the calendar clerk to request preferred dates.
The presiding judge’s emergency order cites that it was prompted by the health crisis declared by county, state and national officials and will help the courts deal with the gathering of dozens of people at a time for jury duty, with the initial selection process often seeing a packed lobby of those summoned. Even once the jury and alternates are seated, traditionally that means days and sometimes weeks of sitting side by side with fellow jurors — certainly not fulfilling the “social distancing” that is a current catch-phrase in the wake of the coronavirus situation.
Now, per Judge Kingsbury’s order, not only will there be no jury trials conducted through April 16, but members of the public appearing in court on other matters and waiting in the gallery for their case to be called must be seated at least two seats apart. Bailiffs or other court security will enforce the new rule.
Those who have to appear before a local judge are “strongly discouraged” too from bringing someone with them for moral support, according to the order.
“Other than those who are statutory support persons or persons who are subpoenaed to be in court that particular day” will be allowed, with the judge stating specifically not to bring “relatives or friends” who don’t fall under those descriptions.
If time is not waived by a criminal defendant whose next court date is between now and April 16, the matter will go forward as scheduled but attorneys are “encouraged to agree to continue” the case beyond that period, states the emergency order. Defense attorneys also are urged to appear solo, on behalf of their client.
No additional cases will be added to the criminal calendar during the time period mentioned above.
Civil matters set for dates immediate and through April 16 will be heard via video proceedings, the judge ordered, with any attorney insisting on a personal appearance to have their matter rescheduled.
The emergency order also gives local Superior Court judges wide latitude in extending legal deadlines such as in juvenile dependency cases and the setting of preliminary hearings and even the 48-hour standard time during which a felony criminal defendant must be brought before a magistrate.
Kingsbury’s order states she intends to order courts to resume their normal operations on Friday, April 17 — but don’t bang the gavel on it. From the order: “… this date is subject to change due to rapidly unfolding condition(s).”
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