California Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye on Tuesday announced she will launch a program to fast track the resolution of criminal cases and make retired judges available through the Temporary Assigned Judges Program to reinforce those efforts.
The temporary program aims to help ease significant criminal case backlogs that have accrued as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, as California trial courts take meaningful steps to protect the health and safety of court users and staff.
Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye wrote in a memo to court leaders that the program will likely remain in effect through the end of California’s state of emergency:
Courts, prosecutors, and defense counsel will face a substantial number of cases as we emerge from shelter-in-place orders and the COVID-19 pandemic unless the justice community makes a concerted effort to take action now,” Cantil-Sakauye wrote.
At the request of a trial court’s presiding judge, Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye will provide judges from the Temporary Assigned Judges Program to conduct readiness conferences or cover matters for local trial court judges assigned to these conferences. Courts are encouraged to work with their partners to make the program as expansive as possible given their local needs.
Readiness conferences provide an opportunity to discuss potential resolutions, such as a plea bargain, before going to trial. “The success of this program will likely hinge on a judge who both understands the local court culture and is highly regarded by both the defense and the prosecution,” Cantil-Sakauye added.
Under the program:
- Appearance is mandatory, either through counsel or by the defendant if self-represented. Defendants who are represented would have a right to appear through counsel and would not be required to be present.
- The conference could take place in person or through remote appearance, based on availability of court facilities and whether the conference is being staffed by a judge from the Temporary Assigned Judges Program.
- A court requesting an emergency order with a time extension for holding criminal trials will be required to include a description of their readiness conference program. (Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye has so far signed about 400 emergency orders during the course of the pandemic).
Click here to read the full memo.