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Orange County courts announce new jury trial restrictions due to coronavirus

The Orange County Superior Court is temporarily halting new civil trials, and some non-time-sensitive criminal trials, following the institution of statewide stay-at-home orders meant to ease the coronavirus pandemic.

The suspension of new civil trials will last through Jan. 29, though those that are already underway will be allowed to continue, court officials said.

For criminal cases, the courts will continue to hold proceedings through Jan. 1 that are legally required to prevent charges from being dismissed.

Criminal defendants have a right to have their hearings held in a timely manner, though they routinely waive that right to give their attorneys more time to prepare. As a result, it isn’t clear how many criminal cases will be impacted by the new restrictions.

Jurors will still be called – and required to show up – for jury duty. With courthouses largely closed to the public, court officials have instituted social distancing guidelines to spread jurors around courtrooms rather than keeping them close together in a jury box.

Superior Court spokesman Kostas Kalaitzidis described the new restrictions as precautionary measures, saying they have seen no coronavirus outbreaks tied to jury trials.

“The court, taking into account prevailing conditions with the pandemic in Orange County, decided out of an abundance of caution to limit certain services in an effort to protect the health and safety of judicial officers, employees, justice partners and the community in general,” Kalaitzidis said.

While the changes mark a rollback of some court functions, they aren’t as restrictive as the guidelines put in place at the outset of the pandemic, which left jury trials dark for several months.

As an essential service, the courts were not required to close under the statewide stay-at-home orders. Instead, the presiding judges of the various court systems across the state have been left to decide on their own how to safely operate.

Most courts have increased their use of technology to allow parties to appear in court remotely. And in Orange County court officials have added an online portal to make it easier for people to deal with traffic infractions and lower level criminal cases.

Earlier this week, the Riverside Superior Court announced that it would be delaying the start of new jury trials while assessing proceedings already underway on a case by case basis.

Source: Orange County Register

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