In the past week, the Los Angeles Superior Court has released a handful of news releases to announce updated policies in response to COVID-19. While attempting to help, the releases have been short-sighted and ineffective. The most recent release sounds like it actually has teeth: “Restricting Courthouse Access to Authorized Parties.” In terms of flattening the curve, this policy is akin to using a tooth brush to wash your car. Almost every person who goes to the court is an “authorized party.” So the question begs: what is the actual best solution? Surely they can’t just CLOSE down the courts? Can they?
Well for one, yes, they can. Please see our neighbor to the south, Orange County, who took quick and decisive action to close the courts entirely until they can get a functional and safe technological system up and running that is in compliance with public health standards. But Orange County has been light years ahead of Los Angeles technologically, even before COVID-19. So this comes as no surprise to practitioners who frequent both counties. So here is my realistic suggestion for Los Angeles County and Presiding Judge Kevin Brazile. It is simple. It is straightforward. Things judges and lawyers usually struggle with. The obvious disclaimer is that this is NOT a real order, but rather a suggestion of what one could look like.
*SAMPLE* NEWS RELEASE
- All misdemeanor cases currently scheduled in the next 90 days are continued for 90 days from their currently scheduled date without appearance in court required. Each case will assume its statutory timeline for trial as it had prior to this continuance. For example: If a case is currently scheduled for April 1, 2020 as 0 of 15 for trial, that case will be scheduled for July 1, 2020 as 0 of 15 for trial. All misdemeanants in custody shall be released with a citation to appear for the new court date.
- Felony cases listed below currently scheduled in the next 60 days are continued for 60 days from from their currently scheduled date without appearance in court required. Each case will assume its statutory timeline for trial as it had prior to this continuance. For example: If a case is currently scheduled for April 1, 2020 as 0 of 10 for preliminary hearing, that case will be scheduled for June 1, 2020 as 0 of 10 for preliminary hearing.
- Out-of-custody defendants;
- In-custody non-violent case defendants (Defendants to be released on their own recognizance with a written promise to appear);
- In-custody violent case defendants in which there has previously been a statutory time waiver.
- All post-conviction out of custody matters are continued 120 days from their currently scheduled date.
- All courthouses will be closed to the public.
- Each courthouse will have one courtroom open to handle remaining and emergency custody matters in its jurisdiction. Logically, the largest courtroom in the courthouse with easy custody access so as to maintain social distancing. There will be one judicial officer (with clerk and reporter); two Deputy District Attorneys; two Deputy Public Defenders; one Deputy Alternate Public Defender; and one private duty-day bar panel attorney. Private Attorneys on these matters will be permitted to appear upon the proper showing of ID. Since no out of custody matters will be heard, the courthouse main entrance will be closed. Attorneys and court personnel will be permitted to enter through private judicial entrances upon proper showing of ID.
Is this an airtight solution? No. But does it work for now as we work out the kinks? Yes. But it takes courage to take action as decisive as this. It remains to be seen if Judge Brazile has that courage.