Policy Summary
On April 6, 2020 the California Judicial Council approved eleven temporary court rules in response to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. The rules are designed to only be temporary and will be used to ensure that California state courts can provide due process and access to justice to citizens while ensuring that citizens and employees of the judicial system are adequately protected from a possible COVID-19 transmission and infection. The announcement of the rules by California follows an extraordinary request made by the U.S. Department of Justice to Congress to allow it more input over federal courts to pause court proceedings when requested by the Attorney General. However, numerous Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle reacted to the original Politico report on their respective Twitter accounts that they were against the DOJ request for DOJ to exert more influence over the federal judiciary over such matters concerning pre – arrest, post – arrest, pre – trial, trial and post – trial procedures. The Members of Congress only reacted to the Politico report and did not reference any internal document that contained the DOJ’s request.

The temporary court rules approved by California generally falls into three categories. The rules are either a suspension of a particular court rule or proceeding, the extension of specific timelines and deadlines for a specific set of cases and the encouragement of the use of available technological tools in order to permit court functions to occur remotely. Eleven of these temporary court rules were approved on April 6, 2020 and comes on the heels of an initial set of temporary emergency measures approved by the California Judicial Council on March 28, 2020. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Policy Analysis
In what is being viewed as a subtle rebuke to the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) recent requests to Congress to give the Attorney General powers to ask federal courts to pause proceedings due to an emergency situation, the State of California has implemented temporary emergency court rules that demonstrate how an “independent judiciary” can determine on its own how court proceedings can continue during uncertain times and situations.

The first category of temporary court rules in California are those where a court rule was suspended – the suspension of an entry of default in eviction cases, suspension of judicial foreclosures and the setting of most bail amounts at $0 dollars for most misdemeanor and low – level felony offenses. While there has been much criticism directed at Attorney General William Barr for making his request to Congress to try and pause court proceedings at the request of the federal government, there is a very significant distinction with his requests when compared with the suspension of California court rules. California’s temporary new rules were aimed at ensuring that citizens would still be able to exercise their legal rights to protect their personal freedom and property while the DOJ’s requests appeared to be an attempt to suppress the exercise of legal rights. The California rules in this instance were designed to ensure that no citizen would be kicked out of their homes until a proper judicial hearing could be held for them. Additionally, the reduction of the California bail schedule was designed to protect citizens from being incarcerated for offenses that could greatly increase their exposure to infection from the COVID-19 coronavirus. While California was doing all they can to protect their citizens the DOJ’s request was different in that it appeared to try and do away with court rules that they simply did not want a citizen or criminal defendant to have when the government was prosecuting a person.

Along these lines, the second category of California’s new temporary emergency rules can also be seen as trying to protect the rights of citizens while the COVID-19 coronavirus sweeps through the country. In the first batch of rules approved on March 28, 2020 there were four rules that extended the timelines of court cases and deadlines to ensure that citizens would not be prejudiced by a shortened time period to prepare their cases due to the virus. Time periods to hold preliminary hearings were extended from 10 to 30 days, criminal defendants were required to be charged by a judicial officer no more than 7 days instead of the normal 48 hours, and trials were given an additional 90 days after the COVID-19 state of emergency is lifted to bring a civil or criminal case to trial. Additionally, restraining orders were extended (benefitting those who hold a restraining order against another person) while statutes of limitations governing civil actions were also extended.

And finally, the other rules approved were to permit and even encourage the use of technology to conduct court proceedings and other essential operations remotely. During a time of social distancing guidelines and possibility of infection from being too close to other persons this proposal made the most sense. Now, with the defendant’s consent in some cases California state courts can use all video, audio and telephone capabilities to ensure that a citizen can state their case and if need be, state a full and robust defense and be present for all proceedings remotely. Even civil case depositions, which have traditionally been done in person, are encouraged to be taken electronically. These electronic measures permit the California judiciary system to meet stringent health directives during this time and will protect court employees and all who have pressing business that would normally have been done inside a state courthouse.

What the California Chief Justice made clear was that these new rules would be temporary. They were approved only because of what the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about to the world the last few months. But until the state of emergency and stay at home orders are lifted Chief Justice Tani Cantil – Sakauye got it right when she said the regulations are to “preserve the rule of law and protect the rights of victims, the accused, litigants, families and children, and all who seek justice.” LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Engagement Resources:

  • California Judicial Branch – list of latest news on how the California Judiciary is managing the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
  • National Center for State Courts – non – profit webpage focused on state court issues and how state courts around the country are dealing with the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact Rod@USResistnews.org.

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