LOS ANGELES – Saying the number of COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles County remains at a dangerous level, the county court system’s presiding judge Friday announced emergency continuances for criminal trials and juvenile dependency cases.
“The court continues to prioritize health and safety while fulfilling our legislative and constitutional mandates,” Presiding Judge Eric C. Taylor said in a statement issued by the court. “For nearly a year, the court has fully complied with CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and county public health guidelines, prioritizing a broad range of public health and safety protocols. Judicial officers are encouraging remote appearances whenever possible and exercising their sound discretion to manage calendars to minimize the risk of exposure to everyone who works or appears in our courtrooms.”
The order, issued Thursday, allows:
— the time within which a criminal trial must be held to be extended by up to 30 days in cases in which the deadline would otherwise fall between Jan. 29 and Feb. 26;
— the time for a preliminary hearing following arraignment to be extended from 10 court days to no more than 30 court days;
— pretrial hearings in misdemeanor cases for out-of-custody defendants to be extended by 90 calendar days unless statutorily required to be held sooner and the defendant does not consent to a continuance;
— minors taken into custody pending dependency proceedings can be held up to seven days in cases when the deadline for release would otherwise fall on or between Jan. 29 and Feb. 26.
The court has already taken steps to enforce social distancing, barring attorneys, litigants, witnesses and other authorized individuals from gathering with anyone outside their household in courthouse hallways or other public areas of the court unless they are masked and standing six feet apart.
Masks are required to be worn by everyone inside the courthouses unless they can certify a medical exemption and deputies inside the courthouse have been instructed to enforce all orders.
Earlier this month, the court announced that a Superior Court traffic clerk and court interpreter died from COVID-19. A third court employee, another interpreter, recently died, but court officials could not confirm whether coronavirus was the cause.
In the Jan. 15 announcement of the two deaths, Taylor noted that the court was continuing to “implement extensive safety measures in all of our 38 courthouses” but that “none of us is immune to this plague on our nation.”