LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Trial dates for cases pending in Los Angeles Superior Court will be further delayed under an order today by the presiding judge, who said courthouses are not designed for social distancing.
Some criminal trials may start as early as September, but civil jury trials will be postponed until January and civil non-jury trials -- other than small claims and traffic trials -- may not commence before Nov. 16, based on the new order issued by Presiding Judge Kevin C. Brazile.
Some other cases that can be heard by a judge without a jury may begin as early as Oct. 5 in compliance with social distancing protocols.
Brazile said he sought to balance the need to increase the court's workload while keeping courthouses safe by reducing in-person appearances.
“The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has expressed concerns to the court about commencing jury trials and bringing jurors into county courthouses given the current COVID-19 numbers and trends,'' Brazile said in a statement. “Courthouses are not designed to facilitate social distancing given their fixed configuration.''
The court is rolling out remote courtroom solutions to allow judges to hold remote hearings. However, remote appearances cannot be mandated in all cases for legal and ethical reasons. In criminal proceedings, the defendant's consent is typically required, and civil cases pose their own obstacles to a virtual proceeding.
“The court cannot mandate remote appearances in civil trials due to logistical and evidentiary issues,'' Brazile said.
Most dependency proceedings have been held virtually since the dependency courts reopened June 22, however, the number of cases heard is limited because of the social distancing mandates. Monday's order prioritizes those cases so that they can be heard as quickly as circumstances allow.
All non-jury trials scheduled from Monday to Sept. 8 -- other than small claims and traffic trials and any case statutorily required to proceed -- are continued until further notice.
Family law evidentiary proceedings, other than restraining order hearings, that can be completed within two court days may be held. Otherwise, such proceedings cannot commence before Nov. 20, except as authorized by the supervising judge.
To safeguard court users and enforce social distancing, scheduled appointments are required for in-person services from the clerk's office, court support services and self-help centers. Appointments may be made the same day for persons seeking restraining orders who have completed paperwork and arrive at the courthouse no later than 3 p.m.
Access to proceedings shall be limited to the judicial officer presiding, court personnel, parties, counsel, witnesses and those members of the public -- including media representatives -- who can be accommodated in the designated courtroom while enforcing mandatory social distancing of at least six feet.
The determination of courtroom capacity shall be made by the judge or commissioner presiding in the courtroom.
Parties, counsel and judicial officers are strongly urged to avoid in-person appearances and hearings and make use of technology to convene remotely whenever possible. However, judicial officers retain the discretion to require in-person appearances.
In accordance with an earlier order, all persons are required to wear face coverings over their nose and mouth while in a courthouse, unless disabilities preclude them from doing so.