December 7, 2020 – Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye on Monday issued an advisory to leaders of California’s 58 county superior courts with guidance to continue to seek emergency orders if needed based on local conditions and ability to hold remote hearings or provide social distancing under state and local health rules.
The memo was issued in response to the growing surge of COVID-19 infections in California.
“The Judicial Council of California, like the Governor, recognizes that the health crisis has manifested itself differently throughout the state. Because our 58 trial courts and six appellate districts face different impacts from the latest COVID-19 surge, and have different capacities and resources, statewide orders for case processing, at this time, are inappropriate and would impair the flexibility trial and appellate courts need to respond to local conditions and access to justice,” Cantil-Sakauye wrote.
“Courts may still make requests for emergency orders based on local conditions, the ability to hold remote hearings and provide social distancing while harmonizing directives from local health officers and local government officials, as well as clarity for local emergency rules of court,” she wrote.
Since March, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye has signed 353 emergency orders to help trial courts manage their caseloads in the face of the pandemic; 55 trial courts have needed emergency orders and 33 are currently using them.
On Dec. 3, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a regional stay-at-home order triggered by ICU capacity. Courts are an essential service under state guidelines, so courts are exempt from closing and “continue to balance constitutional and statutory rights with the safety and health of all court users, employees, jurors, justice partners, and judicial officers,” Cantil-Sakauye wrote.
The memo lists some of the available resources available to courts through the Judicial Council:
Emergency rules of court: The Judicial Council starting April 6 adopted a series of temporary emergency rules of court to assist courts in continuing to provide access to justice during the pandemic.
Pandemic Continuity of Operations Resource Guide: The resource guide was compiled by the Pandemic Continuity of Operations Working Group, with the support of Judicial Council staff. The guide includes information outlined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and best practices from the National Center for State Courts and courts across the state and country.
Emergency orders: Government Code section 68115 allows a presiding judge to seek authority from the Chief Justice, in her capacity as chair of the Judicial Council, to extend statutory deadlines in some but not all proceedings, among other relief. (These emergency orders can be found here, by court.)
Advisories: Six advisories issued since March suggest best practices for court proceedings and operations, including civil matters, videoconferencing, cybersecurity, and responding to individuals with behavior issues.
Read the full memo here.