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L.A. County delays criminal trial start dates amid Omicron surge

An attorney in court with a video screen
L.A. County Deputy Dist. Atty. John Lewin delivers opening statements while masked during Robert Durst’s murder trial, which was delayed for more than a year by the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Getty Images)

Los Angeles County will stall the last date to start criminal trials for two weeks, and at least one high-profile trial has been suspended, as coronavirus infections continue to surge across the region due to the Omicron variant.

The delay, which will go into effect Wednesday, will allow court officials to “balance access to justice with local public safety needs,” according to Presiding Judge Eric Taylor.

“I will continue to consult closely with L.A. County Department of Public Health ... officials on local conditions and any changes to public health orders and guidance during this winter surge,” Taylor said in a statement. “For the second consecutive winter, holiday gatherings have fueled widespread community transmission.”

The order delays the last date by which a criminal trial must begin to ensure a defendant’s speedy trial rights. Other types of hearings — including arraignments, preliminary settings or motion hearings — will continue unaffected, according to Kelly Vail, a spokeswoman for the court system. The order’s effect ends Jan. 19.

The news came a day after a panel of judges ordered the suspension of all federal trials in Los Angeles, Riverside and Orange counties. There was no timetable given for a return to normal operations in the federal court system.

L.A. County recorded roughly 45,000 new cases during a weekend filled with New Year’s Eve festivities, far above last December’s peak average of 16,000 cases per day. Health officials also warned the weekend tallies might be an undercount due to the holiday.

The Omicron surge has also paused at least one high-profile trial.

Proceedings against Matthew Fletcher, the defense attorney who once represented Marion “Suge” Knight at his murder trial, had begun in December nearly four years after he was indicted on charges on conspiring to commit bribery and obstruction of justice based on allegations he tampered with witnesses in Knight’s case.

Shortly before the announcement delaying trials, attorneys involved in Fletcher’s case learned that one juror had tested positive for the coronavirus and two others were symptomatic, according to Fletcher’s attorney, Alexandria Kazarian.


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