Citing a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases, Los Angeles County’s presiding judge issued an emergency order Tuesday that authorizes criminal jury trials to be temporarily delayed.
The emergency order — the first since last October that involves criminal cases — applies to criminal jury trials with statutory deadlines between Wednesday and Jan. 19, and extends the time period to hold criminal trials “by not more than 30 days.”
It was the second announcement of the day regarding court proceedings and COVID protocols. Earlier Tuesday, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California suspended jury trials within the region’s federal courthouses for at least three weeks. Central District courthouses are located in Los Angeles, Riverside, Pasadena and Santa Ana.
“Los Angeles County’s current COVID numbers warrant this relief, and I have elected to utilize this authority sparingly as we closely monitor the impact of the dual variants on our court users, judicial officers, staff and justice partners,” Presiding Judge Eric C. Taylor said in a statement released by the county court.
Court officials say the order will reduce the amount of foot traffic, including jurors and witnesses, in Los Angeles County courthouses. The order also authorizes a 90 calendar-day delay in pretrial hearings for misdemeanor cases set between Jan. 5 and Jan. 19 unless they are statutorily required to be held sooner and the defendant does not consent to a continuance, as well as a 90 calendar-day delay in post-conviction progress reports set during the two-week period.
The court has urged judicial officers in civil cases to exercise their “sound discretion — after discussion with the parties” — on whether to proceed now with jury trials or elect to postpone them during the COVID-19 surge.
The order notes that everyone regardless of their vaccination status is required to wear face coverings over their nose and mouth while in a county courthouse, and that people whose disabilities preclude them from wearing face coverings are urged to seek an accommodation in advance of their court appearance or appointment.
The presiding judge said he will continue to consult closely with L.A. County Department of Public Health officials on local conditions and any changes to public health orders and guidance during the winter surge.