San Fernando Valley courthouses--jammed earlier this week with hundreds of people waiting to be processed on charges of violating the emergency dawn-to-dusk curfew--are struggling back to normalcy.
A trickle of curfew violators still was being sentenced Thursday in Van Nuys Municipal Court, but the attention of most judges, prosecutors and public defenders was focused on getting back to cases that were set aside briefly during the riot.
Many defendants in non-riot cases Thursday were being assigned trial dates or sentenced if they entered pleas.
"We're back to people who are beating their spouses, people who sell their bodies for money and other regular criminals," Van Nuys Deputy Public Defender David H. Cho said.
Little work had been done on such cases since April 30. The San Fernando Courthouse was open last Thursday, and Van Nuys was open for half a day, but defendants in custody in the downtown Central Jail were not brought to the courthouses as a safety precaution after the outbreak of rioting Wednesday. Both courthouses were closed last Friday.
Many preliminary hearings scheduled for this week were also postponed because police officers were unavailable to testify while on riot duty. The officers are expected to be available starting Monday.
San Fernando Municipal Supervising Judge Juelann K. Cathey said next week will be a "bad week" but that she is attempting to reassign cases so that the prosecutors and defense attorneys will not have to run from one courtroom to another for their cases.
Acting Van Nuys Municipal Supervising Judge Gregg Marcus said he is prepared to move judges around to conduct as many preliminary hearings as possible next week. In both courthouses, Superior Court judges have volunteered to conduct preliminary hearings--which are usually the work of lower ranking municipal judges--but both Cathey and Marcus said they are not likely to use them.
Some deputy public defenders--who earlier complained that many curfew violators are being punished too severely by being sentenced to 10 days in jail--added complaints that some of their clients in non-riot-related cases are also being victimized by the emergency rules that extended deadlines for arraigning and trying defendants.
Prosecutors are being granted 30-day postponements on some cases that were set for trial this week, they said. As a result, they contended, some jailed defendants who had requested jury trials are pleading no contest rather than spend another 30 days in jail awaiting trial.