Please let this correspondence serve as an update on the Court’s status as the state begins to lift COVID-19 restrictions.
Since the SIP Order on March 16th, 2020, the court has been operating on a very limited basis as we have detailed in earlier communication to clients. As of June 1st, the Court was hoping to return to full operation with all departments up and running. Unfortunately, and despite the Court’s best intentions, they will only be opening three additional departments as of June 1st, with the balance of the departments opening by June 15th, 2020.
More detailed information on the Court’s re-opening is set out below:
1. Facemasks: Everyone in the courthouse is required to wear a facemask. Once inside a courtroom, you may ask the judge for permission regarding modifying your face covering (ex: can I remove my mask to speak?).
2. Calendars will be limited: Only 7 matters will be calendared per time slot, specific time slots will be assigned (ex: 9, 10, 11, 1:30, 2:30, 3:30).
3. Courtroom time will be limited: Your matter might be an RFO, but in these first few months, the Court may treat your hearing like a status conference and continue the matter out further due to time constraints.
4. Filing staff is no longer limited: Everyone is set up to work remotely. Things should not be delayed.
5. Trials: All trials through the end of May were continued to a status conference date. At the status conference, trials will be re-set. Previously, if your trial was two days or less, your APJ would hear it. Now, your APJ will only hear one day trials through at least the end of this year. If you have a trial that is longer than one-day and is on a time-urgent issue (DV, move-aways, etc.), your trial will be referred to a civil department on an expedited basis. Urgent family issues and criminal trials are taking priority. If your trial is on a non-urgent issue and is more than one day, it will probably not go forward in 2020.
6. New judges: Commissioner Blecher is now Judge Blecher. She will be in Department 64. Judge Adams will be moving from Department 64 to Department 73. Judge Franco is moving to criminal. Commissioner Rebecca Esquival Pedroza will take over for Judge Blecher in DCSS.
7. Remote Hearings: The pilot project for remote hearings in DCSS is still ongoing in Department 70. They are awaiting equipment before this could be utilized in all departments.
8. Courtcall: Courtcall is still liberally encouraged by the presiding judge. She noted that the reason calendars are so limited is because they have noticed that not many attorneys are taking advantage of courtcall. Judge Pegg encouraged us to please use courtcall when appropriate. If more hearings can take place via courtcall, calendars can be expanded.
9. Change to JCC process: Beginning July 1st, parties will not be referred to a JCC after mediation. They will have a post-mediation hearing with the APJ to determine if they would benefit from a JCC or if a trial or long-cause hearing needs to be set on the matter. One of the goals of this includes having a quicker timeframe for the judges to implement interim custody orders.
10. RFOs: The Court staff has full capacity to process all ex parte RFOs, even if they did not fit in the prior COVID-specific guidelines. Hearings are going to start being set on all RFOs that have been filed since the March SIP orders, but not until after the current calendar is set. So, we should be getting new hearing dates on our filed RFOs. Effective, June 1st, if you file an RFO, you should get a hearing date.
11. Remote MSCs: This process is beginning. Sharon Roper will be contacting attorneys in order to coordinate remote MSCs.
12. SOCs: SOCs will be happening beginning June 1, 2020. They are singe-set and only for one hour. You will be escorted in an out of the SOC wing. Also, remote SOCs are being discussed/proposed.
13. FCS: FCS is fully-operational with telephonic mediation. They stress that we should advise clients to answer calls from a blocked number if they are participating with the phone mediations.
We appreciate that fact that the Court’s new guidelines make a difficult process even more so, we will continue to keep you advised of developments as they occur.
Please do not hesitate to contact the undersigned should you have any questions or concerns.
Very truly yours,
Michael E. Lonich