Courts Transition to Post-COVID Protocols
By Oyango A. Snell
While masks, shelter-in-place orders, vaccinations, remote work policies, and homeschooling may seem like a thing of the past in American cities, the last two-plus years may indicate a new normal for the legal profession. As courts around the country begin rescinding mask mandates and other policies and protocols to combat COVID-19, California courts are beginning to follow suit in efforts to return to a pre-COVID-19 California. Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye recently rescinded some of the COVID-19 pandemic-related orders following Governor Gavin Newsom’s announcement regarding plans to transition the state’s crisis preparation response to an approach that entails living with COVID-19. Under the emergency orders, courts were allowed to extend the time to hold a preliminary hearing in a criminal case to 30 days instead of 10 days, and to extend the time to bring civil cases to trial by up to 60 days. Additionally, courts were allowed to adopt local rules in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and forego the 45-day public comment period. Court rules that prevented the use of technology for remote court proceedings and operations were also suspended.
II. EMERGENCY RULES EXPIRING
On June 30, 2022, additional emergency rules that are in effect, such as the allowance of remote appearances and personal appearance waivers by criminal defendants, extended deadlines to file a civil action or bring a civil case to trial, or priority for certain juvenile cases, to name a few, will sunset. These rules were implemented on a temporary basis and were not intended to be permanent. But does this mean the end for remote hearings and proceedings or trial via zoom? In California, the answer is no. Legislation was enacted last year authorizing remote proceedings in civil matters until July 1, 2023, and legislation has been introduced this year that would authorize remote proceedings in civil matters to continue indefinitely. The Judicial Council has also voted to pursue legislation that would authorize remote criminal proceedings.
III. MOVING FORWARD
As efforts continue to modernize court operations and proceedings in California, I am certain that court officials will grapple with learned lessons from the past two-plus years to enhance the judicial system.