LOS ANGELES – The presiding judge of Los Angeles County’s court system Tuesday announced the launch of a project in which defendants in criminal cases can appear through video to lower the number of people coming to court during the coronavirus pandemic.
Presiding Judge Kevin C. Brazile cited an “unprecedented level of collaboration and coordination which has led to the design, set-up and testing of this program in the largest trial court system in the United States in just two weeks.”
“COVID-19 has led to extraordinary changes in how the world and the Los Angeles Superior Court conducts business,” he said. “Literally overnight our court has had to completely reconfigure procedures, which typically take place in person, in order to both ensure access to justice and due process while adhering to social distancing and safer-at-home orders to protect public health and safety and to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Brazile said.
Defendants who consent to an arraignment done by video will appear from custody locations — 13 Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department substations and 19 police departments throughout the county, and will have access to speak privately with their attorneys via a remote video connection from a separate room at the custody location, according to the court.
The judges or commissioners, the court clerks and court reporters will remain in the courtrooms while being at least six feet apart.
“If the defendant does not consent, then he or she is transported to court for traditional in-person arraignment,” Brazile said.
He noted that the court system “plays an integral and vital role in slowing the spread of this deadly virus.”
“Using this Webex technology and with the cooperation of our justice partners, the court is doing our part to ensure access to justice while making our courthouses as safe as possible,” Brazile said.
The Michael Antonovich Antelope Valley Courthouse in Lancaster is one of several county courthouses participating in the video appearance project.
The presiding judge announced last week that courtrooms would remain closed for judicial business through May 12 except for those handling time-sensitive, essential functions.
Essential matters include arraignments, preliminary hearings, bail review hearings, grand jury indictments and sentencing hearings in criminal cases, along with juvenile petitions, emergency protective orders, emergency writs challenging COVID-19 emergency measures and civil and family temporary restraining orders.
Earlier this month, Brazile said the court system was instituting a 90-day grace period on all traffic and non-traffic infraction tickets.
The presiding judge had announced on March 17 that most court functions would remain on hold until April 16 to “allow us to comply with social distancing and to prevent the spread of the virus within our community.”