Long Beach criminal lawyer Matthew Kaestner has practiced criminal law in Long Beach for over 34 years including during the aftermath of 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 L.A. and Orange County courts and where things stand as of April 2020.
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...." The Court also ordered the time to bring arrested persons to courts from 48 hours to 7 days and extended the time to hear trials and preliminary hearings.
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 for sixty (60) days. The time to hold a criminal trial in a criminal case was extended for 60 days as well. 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 Superior Court presiding Judge 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 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, including Long Beach, have been contacting lawyers and extending Court dates by several months, even on cases where the defendant is in-custody.
The Orange County Superior Courts declared a "court holiday" for ten (10) days starting March 17, 2020 and then remained mostly closed "until April 24, 2020, with minimal exceptions for time sensitive matters or matters pertaining to the safety and security of the community." Thus, only custody arraignments and custody preliminary hearings are being handled by criminal courts. Calls to the Courts to re-schedule matters results in a voice recording often requesting a message not be left. How Orange County courts will ever be able to get pending criminal cases back on track is an open question that no one appears ready to answer.
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 set for serious felonies, domestic violence, firearms offenses, DUI, looting and a few other offenses at the normally scheduled amount. Bail for all misdemeanor probation violations is also $0. Judges are, of course, free to use their best judgement in setting bail and are not bound by the bail schedule. The new L.A. District Attorney George Gascon, who took office on December 7, 2020, has directed that bail should be used only when necessary and adjusted based upon an a charged person’s ability to pay.
Jury trials have been delayed by a series of Superior Court orders, the last of which added 30 additional days to bring to trial persons who’s trials came due through December 31, 2020. Whether trials will be delayed once again by “emergency orders” is likely until enough persons receive a vaccine so that trials can be held safely.
Long Beach criminal attorney Matthew Kaestner is available to take your call during this difficult time. He can be reached directly at 562-688-3445. If necessary, attorney Kaestner will sport his N95 mask and represent your interests in the Long Beach or surrounding L.A. and Orange County Courts. Stay safe.