Long Beach criminal lawyer Matthew Kaestner has practiced criminal law in Long Beach for over 35 years including during the aftermath of the Rodney King unrest, the Northridge earthquake and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. None of these tragedies have come close to the devastating toll the coronavirus, Covid-19, has taken on the California judicial system.
To follow is a brief outline of what has happened in the Long Beach, Los Angeles, and surrounding courts because of Covid-19 and where things stand as of August 2021.
On March 16, 2020 the Los Angeles County Superior Court presiding judge, Kevin C. Brazile, placed all Los Angeles County courts, including Long Beach, on a three day "court holiday" and were completely closed from March 17 through March 19. When the courts re-opened on March 20, 2020, it was "for the limited purpose of hearing or handling essential or emergency matters...."
On March 17 Judge Brazile also ordered the time to bring arrested persons to court from 48 hours to 7 days. The time to hold trials was extended by 30 days and the time to hold a preliminary hearings in felony criminal cases was extended to 15 court days from 10 days.
The presiding judge invoked the authority of California Government Code section 68115 that authorizes the presiding judge "When war, an act of terrorism, public unrest or calamity, epidemic, natural disaster, or other substantial risk to the health and welfare of court personnel or the public...[to] order" the extension of speedy preliminary and speedy trial rights of persons charged with crimes.
On March 23, 2020 the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, issued an order suspending all jury trials statewide for sixty (60) days. The Chief Justice also authorized the State's Superior Courts to issue further orders that could take effect immediately.
On March 23, 2020, the Los Angeles presiding Judge Brazile issued further orders that limited access to courthouses and proceedings to: judicial officers and staff, attorneys, parties, witnesses and members of the news media only. Social distancing of at least six (6) feet and masking was also ordered.
On March 28, the California Judicial Council approved temporary emergency measures to apply statewide. These measures included extending the time to hold a preliminary hearing for someone in custody from 10 to 30 days and extending the time to bring a person to trial by "more than 30 days."
Since the issuance of these orders, trial courts in Los Angeles County and surrounding courts have issued one order after another extending trials and other court business. Recently some courts have commenced hearing some jury trials, but other trials have been delayed by further Court orders.
On August 13, 2021, L.A. County current presiding Judge Eric Taylor issued an order that extended the time "for the holding of a Criminal trial by not more than 30 days, applicable only to cases in which the original or previously extended statutory deadline otherwise would expire from August 14, 2021, to August 27, 2021, inclusive."
On the issue of bail on criminal cases, on April 6, 2020, the California Judicial Council released a statewide Emergency Bail Schedule that set $0 bail for most misdemeanors and lower-level felony offenses. However, bail is still set for serious felonies, domestic violence, firearms offenses, DUI, looting and a few other offenses at the normally scheduled amount. Judges are, of course, free to use their best judgement in setting bail and are not bound by the bail schedule.
With the recent increase incidence of the delta variant of the covid-19 virus in Los Angeles County, it is difficult to see how jury trials will resume in a sufficient volume to accommodate the massive backlog of cases that has resulted from previous orders delaying trials. Only time will tell.
Long Beach criminal attorney Matthew Kaestner is available to take your call during this difficult time. He can be reached directly at 562-437-0200. Attorney Kaestner is vaccinated, masked and ready to go to Court to represent your interests in the Long Beach or surrounding L.A. and Orange County Courts. Oftentimes, he can appear while you stay home and away from courthouse crowds. Stay safe.