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California

L.A. County courts call for 30-day delay in many trials amid coronavirus spread

The Stanley Mosk Courthouse
The Stanley Mosk Courthouse, the main civil courthouse of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, in downtown Los Angeles.
( Los Angeles Times)

Reacting to the spread of the novel coronavirus, the Los Angeles County Superior Court is recommending a 30-day delay on new civil trials and some criminal jury trials in the nation’s largest trial court.

It joins other counties in trying to adjust judicial functions amid the health crisis.

The guidance came from Presiding Judge Kevin C. Brazile of the Superior Court, who said he lacked the authority to shut down courts without the approval of the state chief justice. Asked whether Brazile had sought permission for modifications to court operations, a spokesperson for the Supreme Court said, “To my knowledge, not yet.”

Los Angeles County Superior Court encompasses dozens of courthouses.

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The move comes as other counties are struggling with what do about courts as the coronavirus spreads and officials put limits on group meetings and activities.

Santa Clara County, where the coronavirus outbreak has hit particularly hard, announced delays Friday in many traffic, small-claims, family, civil and probate trials, as well as some criminal trials.

Other counties have been discussing similar actions.

And late Friday, the top federal judge in Los Angeles said no jurors would be called for criminal or civil trials until April 13. In a written order, Chief U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips cited the recommendations of public health authorities to limit exposure to the virus.

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The suspension applied to courthouses in Los Angeles, Santa Ana and Riverside.

A majority of the district’s judges backed the decision, she wrote, which was made to cut back the size of public gatherings and reduce travel.

Grand juries, however, will continue to meet, magistrate judges will continue to arraign defendants and sign warrants, and all courtroom deadlines and proceedings — apart from jury trials — will continue as planned, Phillips said.

California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said in a statement Friday that the Supreme Court and appeals courts are working with the rest of the judicial agencies to deal with the health crisis.

“Although the extent of the pandemic is unknown at this time, California’s courts will continue to do what they do best: balancing public safety and health while protecting liberty and due process. Court users should check with their local courts or court websites for updates on how a court is responding to the crisis,” she wrote.

Brazile’s recommendations include delaying new civil jury trials at least 30 days and delaying criminal jury trials at least 30 days in cases in which defendants have agreed to “waive time,” or allow for a slower legal process than the law calls for.

Attorneys who practice in Los Angeles County say they have been disappointed by the slow response to the coronavirus pandemic. Up until Friday morning, the county court system had said there were no impacts to court operations.

“I’m disappointed,” said defense attorney Lou Shapiro, who was part of a team of legal leaders that held a conference call Friday afternoon with Judge Brazile. Shapiro says the changes should go further, beyond “recommendations” to the point of ordering delays in trials and remote court appearances.

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“They are taking a reactive approach: ‘Let’s see how this evolves.’ What are we waiting for?” he said. “We have the opportunity to get ahead of it, and we’re not.”


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