California Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye issued a statewide order on March 23 suspending all jury trials in California’s superior courts for 60 days and permitting courts in the state to immediately adopt new rules to address the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Chief Justice stated in her order:
Courts cannot comply with these health restrictions and continue to operate as they have in the past. Court proceedings require gatherings of court staff, litigants, attorneys, witnesses, and juries, well in excess of the numbers allowed for gathering under current executive and health orders. Many court facilities in California are ill-equipped to effectively allow the social distancing and other public health requirements required to protect people involved in court proceedings and prevent the further spread of COVID-19.
Cantil-Sakauye went on to explain that even if the courts were able to practice adequate social-distancing, the closure of the state’s schools means that “many court employees, litigants, witnesses, and potential jurors cannot leave their homes to attend court proceedings because they must stay home to supervise their children.” In addition, the restrictions have made it “nearly impossible” for courts to find enough citizens to make up juries for the trials.
The Chief Justice found good cause to order the following:
- All jury trials are suspended and continued for 60 days from the date of this order; however, courts may conduct a jury trial at an earlier date with a finding of good cause or via remote technology, when appropriate.
- The time period provided in Penal Code § 1382 for the holding of a criminal trial is extended for 60 days, but again, courts may conduct a jury trial at an earlier date with a finding of good cause or via remote technology, when appropriate.
- The time period provided in Code of Civil Procedure §§ 310 and 583.320 for the holding of a civil trial is extended for 60 days, but the same caveat is applicable for a trial at an earlier date.
- All superior courts are authorized under Rule 10.613(i) of the California Rules of Court to adopt any proposed rules or rule amendment that is intended to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to take effect immediately, without advance circulation for 45 days of public comment. A court adopting a rule change must provide a copy to Judicial Council staff and post notice of the change prominently on the court’s website, along with the effective date of the new or amended rule. The court must also immediately distribute the new or amended rule pursuant to Rule 10.613(g)(2). Further, no litigant’s substantive rights shall be prejudiced for failing to comply with the requirements of a new or amended rule until at least 20 days after the rule change has been distributed.
The Supreme Court website explains that California law circumscribes the authority of the Chief Justice during emergencies.
“Presiding judges of county superior courts may petition the Chief Justice—as chair of the Judicial Council—for an emergency order to support their local needs.”
A copy of the Chief Justice’s order can be found here.
The California Department of Health states that as of 2PM PDT March 22, 2020, there are a total of 1,733 positive cases and 27 deaths in California (including one non-California resident).