Southern California superior courts are beginning the process of reopening following COVID-19 pandemic closures. The reopening process differs from county to county. Courts are now accepting new filings and certain types of motions are being heard. New and pre-closure filings are being processed. However, given backlogs and reduced staffing, considerable delays are anticipated. Courts are encouraging parties to resolve lawsuits and discovery disputes informally to ease backlogs. In litigation matters, written discovery is still taking place. Depositions and mediations are being held remotely. However, it appears that civil jury trials are still a long way off.
The following paragraphs generally summarize the present status of Southern California courts serving Kriger Law Firm clients on civil matters based on a review of court-published information.
SAN DIEGO COUNTY
San Diego Superior Court has resumed services effective May 26, 2020, but only persons needing emergency services can enter the courthouse. Social distance and must wear a mask and be screened by temperature reading before entering any court facility Many of the court's usual activities are being handled online, over the phone or through video conference. Emergency needs (temporary restraining orders, etc.) can still be handled in person.
Civil jury trials are presently not being scheduled. All scheduled jury trials have been suspended and are continued for a period of at least 60 days. Previously set hearings, including trials, have been vacated and must be rescheduled after “meeting and conferring” (remotely, of course) with the opposing party. All hearing dates in limited civil cases and small claims cases have been vacated and will be re-scheduled by the court. Parties will be notified of new hearing dates and times, including information on how to appear at the hearing. Ex parte hearings can be scheduled but are only held telephonically.
Face coverings and social distancing are required of all persons entering Riverside County Superior Court facilities. All non-essential functions are suspended; only specific limited emergency matters are presently being heard. Many court locations are closed or have limited hours through June 12, 2020. Court staff answering phones and monitoring e-mails are limited, so expect lengthy wait times and delays. Only certain documents relating to emergency and essential matters are being processed; all other documents submitted will not be reviewed or filed until the court resumes normal operations.
All unlimited civil jury and court trials set have been vacated; trial dates are replaced with trial setting conferences at the same time and department. Limited civil trials are suspended until July 20, 2020. Certain civil matters such as temporary civil restraining orders, requests to renew restraining orders, ex parte applications, and stipulations, are being accepted. All other civil matters and hearings, except for post-trial motions, are being continued. All small claims hearings are postponed for 90 days. Notice of new hearings will be mailed by the Court. The Court Clerk's Offices for small claims matters are closed.
The Court plans to summon jurors for appearance dates beginning in mid-June for a limited number of criminal trials that may start at that time, using health and safety protocols developed with the Riverside County Public Health Officer. Counsel or self-represented parties will be notified when cases are set for a hearing and whether participants will be required to appear in-person or telephonically.
SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY
San Bernardino Superior Court started gradually reopening on May 29th with modified service hours. New hearing dates and notices are being sent to attorneys and parties. Face coverings and social distancing are required. Persons are not allowed to enter the courthouse unless their case is being heard or their filing is being accepted inside. Alternative filing options include outside service windows and drop box locations. Filing documents, making payments and other court business may be accomplished by mail or fax .
Civil restraining orders remain in effect until new hearing dates are rescheduled. Time-sensitive and essential ex parte civil matters are being heard telephonically.
LOS ANGELES COUNTY
An order closing Los Angeles Superior Court courtrooms and delaying trials and non-essential matters has been extended through June 10th. All clerk's offices are now slated to reopen on June 15th. At that time, the Court will offer telephonic and online options to conduct court business. To enforce social distancing, in-person services will require a prescheduled appointment.
When the Court reopens to the public on June 15, all persons will be required to wear face masks or facial coverings to enter any courthouse or courtroom. The only exceptions will be for a documented medical condition or excuse, or an ADA accommodation approved by the Court. Even then, persons entering may be restricted to a specific time of the day or be required to make an appointment.