NewsLinks is a collection of recent news items relating primarily to the California judicial branch. NewsLinks does not verify nor endorse the accuracy or fairness of the news items, and the views expressed in opinions, editorials, and commentaries are those of the writers only.
Congress has yet to pass a new $3 trillion emergency coronavirus relief bill that could hand over $50 billion in federal funding to California’s court system, facing a radically slashed budget from what was planned last January before the pandemic outbreak in March.
The proposal, like Newsom’s, still ties reductions to the fate of billions of dollars in requested aid from the federal government to cope with the effects of the COVID-19 crisis. But lawmakers would cut money for courts by far less—$100 million to Newsom’s $206 million—if $14 billion in aid arrives from Washington, D.C. Additionally, they offered no plans for more cutbacks in the 2021-22 fiscal year as the governor did.
California’s court administrator released its guide Wednesday for keeping court employees and the public safe as courthouses start to reopen after months of closures and scaled-down operations due to Covid-19.
Many of the report's proposals have already been discussed or put into effect in courthouses that have opened, but the goal of the "Pandemic Continuity of Resources Operations Guide" was to offer recommendations for how to deal with courthouse entrances, elevators, employee safety and jury deliberations.
Unlike the court’s current anonymous staff attorneys, the commissioners signed opinions they drafted, which were often published in the official reports after being adopted by the justices. The commissioner system was regularly criticized and, after it survived a constitutional challenge brought by an attorney who had been on the losing end of three commissioner opinions, disenchantment with the system eventually led to creation of the Courts of Appeal.
While the Auburn Indians and a number of other California casino tribes continue to oppose the Mono’s 20-year effort to build a casino and hotel off Highway 99 near Madera, since taking office, Governor Gavin Newsom — who is named in the case — has been a strong supporter of the project.
Measures have been put in place to "promote safe social distancing in all court locations." Additionally, the court is alternating calendar times and encouraging the use of video and telephonic appearances.
Courts and counsel may choose to conduct jury selection in school theaters and gymnasiums, county fairgrounds, or concert and theater venues. Another option is tailoring jury panel sizes to the limits of the specific courtroom, overflow area, or alternative trial location. Courts also could schedule pools for specific times to reduce pressure on jury assembly and allow faster recovery time in the courtroom.
The infected inmate, before his diagnosis, made a May 27 appearance in Sonoma County Superior Court, officials said Wednesday, when jail authorities learned of the positive test from public health officials. The revelation prompted an immediate pivot from the county’s presiding judge, who ordered a halt to court appearances involving defendants in jail custody.
The death of the unidentified inmate Wednesday came after the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation transferred nearly 700 inmates considered vulnerable to the coronavirus because of their age or medical condition from the San Bernardino County facility to a dozen other prisons around the state, officials said.
Around 1:15 p.m. Tuesday, deputies contacted Jesus Malfavon-Sandoval, 39, and Luis Magana-Alvarez, 21, whom they later placed under arrest on suspicion of grand theft and conspiracy. Both suspects were booked into Mendocino County Jail, then released under zero-dollar bail “in accordance with the Covid-19 emergency order issued by the State of California Judicial Council.”
But the state’s chief justice included adoptions among the hearings that could be held remotely in her response to the coronavirus crisis. A spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County courts said the presiding judge of family courts hoped to increase the number of remote hearings taking place.
(Subscription required) "All parties, and almost especially the self-represented litigants, they have as much time as they need to tell me what they need to tell me," he explained. "Sometimes it's on point, sometimes it isn't, you have to show a little bit of control. But at the same time, I think everyone has their day."
“The guide will not be a one-time, static publication, but an evolving resource that improves over time as courts use it and provide their feedback, experience, and additional best practices,” said the council’s Chief Operating Officer Rob Oyung. “This is version 1.0, and we expect to keep updating it over the next several months.”
(Subscription required) "LACourtConnect will provide a safe and convenient alternative to coming through the courthouse doors to appear for your hearing," said Presiding Judge Kevin C. Brazile in a statement. "As we restore court operations on June 15 and gradually resume hearings beginning June 22, we want to assure litigants and attorneys the court will open its doors with infection control measures, social distancing and face covering requirements."
On Tuesday, the California Supreme Court heard the Gund’s story in a case that raises troubling questions about the lack of law enforcement in the vast rural reaches of California. The case also weighs whether those who volunteer to help an officer should be entitled to sue for damages if they get hurt.
Though some advocates want Newsom to eliminate the housing debts built up by renters and small landlords during the crisis, many legal experts doubt any government force can wipe away unpaid rents and mortgages without smashing through state and federal constitutional rights.
Fees and financial penalties were imposed for a variety of offenses, ranging from motor vehicle violations to fees related to court monitoring, and individuals unable to pay them were hit with further penalties or in some cases faced imprisonment in what experts called a form of “cash register justice” that disproportionately burdened communities of color.
(Subscription required) "The State Bar is expecting further direction from the Supreme Court later this week," Hershkowitz wrote in an email. "Upon receipt, we anticipate we will be in a position to provide greater clarity to applicants for the fall 2020 bar exam."
(Subscription required) Now as a judge, not much has changed. Hunter is still in the valley and still involved with misdemeanor cases. Becoming a judge wasn't too big of a learning curve for her, she said, as she has handled misdemeanor arraignments after a stint doing felony arraignments and traffic court in Chatsworth for her first year.
A lawyer for Scott Peterson, sentenced to death for the 2002 murders of his pregnant wife and their unborn child in a case that drew nationwide attention, told the California Supreme Court on Tuesday that Peterson could not have gotten a fair trial from a jury that was awash in hostile publicity.
In April, four Supreme Court justices were in the courtroom for oral arguments and three participated remotely. For the early– and late-May calendars, only two justices were in court. Today, for the June calendar, all members of the court are participating remotely.
The study, which Justice Liu co-authored and is sponsored by the American Bar Foundation, “discuss[es] how the demographic composition of law students has changed since the Great Recession of the late 2000s, with particular attention to Asian Americans, who too often remain an invisible minority in contemporary discourse on diversity.”
Standing in front of the county Superior Court's Hall of Justice with signs like "Close the jails, not the courts," advocates said the court's move unjustifiably limits the public's right to a speedy trial. It further frays rights already diminished by the pandemic, they said, and is tantamount to "an act of violence."
(Subscription required) Brazile, tasked with balancing access to justice and public health, has previously expressed the difficulty of holding telephonic hearings for law and motion matters. There are challenges in linking remote court employees to the case management system, inadequate staffing, as well as equal access to justice issues when proceeding telephonically, he has said.
(Subscription required) Presiding judges in Los Angeles, Santa Clara, Sacramento and San Diego counties ordered their courts closed, and California Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye did the same at the state Supreme Court in San Francisco. Multiple state appellate courts and courthouses in the Eastern District of California were also closed for the day.
The court will begin issuing jury summons to restart jury trials. The first group of jurors will be summoned for a trial tentatively scheduled for June 23rd at the Nevada City Courthouse. The court will be instituting a pre-screening process for jurors to complete in advance to reduce overall foot traffic into courthouses and continue to encourage social distancing.
Santa Clara County Superior Court closed doors Monday ‘in an abundance of caution,’ joining other big cities; defense attorneys say it exacerbates due process already compromised by COVID-19 restrictions