The ongoing coronavirus surge in Orange County is now prompting a halt to many court proceedings.
Orange County Superior Court officials announced Friday they are suspending new in-person trials for civil, probate and small claims cases until Jan. 29, “to ensure that we are able to maintain safety protocols in light of the increase in positive cases.”
Trials that are already underway can continue until they’re finished, court officials wrote.
“Also, the Court will only hold Criminal proceedings required to prevent the dismissal of charges against defendants,” they added.
“As you know, it has been a priority of our Court to continue to operate at the highest level of functionality that we can in a safe manner, but the dramatic increase in COVID-19 positive cases in our County has required us to cut back our services,” Presiding Judge Kirk Nakamura said in a statement.
Starting Monday, the court wrote, “only statutorily mandated, time-sensitive jury trials will be conducted through January 1, 2021.” And all pre-trial proceedings in criminal cases will be heard remotely, with some exceptions.
[Click here to read the court’s announcement.]
The changes come as local Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations skyrocket to their highest levels of the pandemic, with 1,025 coronavirus patients in Orange County on Wednesday.
“Our community right now is suffering from the second outbreak, and the court is responding accordingly,” said Kostas Kalaitzidis, spokesman for Orange County Superior Court, in an interview with Voice of OC.
“We continue to evaluate the level of our services on a daily basis in order to determine what we can safely provide to the public under the changing conditions,” Nakamura said in the news release.
Orange County’s jail system is facing a major new Covid-19 outbreak, with at least 74 inmates testing positive this week. One female inmate who tested positive Wednesday was in a courtroom within the last week at the West Court branch of Orange County Superior Court.
“The Court was notified of this incident and took all the prescribed and necessary contact tracing steps,” Kalaitzidis said.
“Also, the Court works very hard to make sure all areas of all courthouses are sanitized regularly,” he added.
During the pandemic, the Superior Court has required anyone inside courthouses to wear masks at all times, and all courtrooms are outfitted with screens to protect the witness, the judge and some of the litigants, Kalaitzidis said, adding capacity is also limited to facilitate physical distancing.
“We’ve held over 140 trials without one [Covid] incident reported,” he said.
Court officials also are in the midst of their annual recruiting for the next Orange County Grand Jury, whose one-year term is scheduled to start July 1. Applications are due by Jan. 22.
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at email@example.com.
Since you've made it this far,
You are obviously connected to your community and value good journalism. As an independent and local nonprofit, our news is accessible to all, regardless of what they can afford. Our newsroom centers on Orange County’s civic and cultural life, not ad-driven clickbait. Our reporters hold powerful interests accountable to protect your quality of life. But it’s not free to produce. It depends on donors like you.
Join the conversation: In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join our Facebook discussion. Message us via our website or staff page. Send us a secure tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.