Many California Courts Reducing Operations in Response to COVID-19 Spread

Oakland, CA – On March 12, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom issued an Executive Order in further response to the spread of the Novel Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-2019). Among other things, this Order mandates compliance with state and local public health officials to control the spread of COVID-19. As local health officials work to contain the spreading virus, California courts have adapted their judicial procedures to accommodate active cases and ensure public safety.

At a minimum, nearly every state court is now requiring visitors to refrain from entering the courthouse if they have traveled to afflicted territories, are showing symptoms, or have otherwise been exposed to the virus. Telephonic and video conference appearances are highly encouraged, and parties are advised to speak with court officials directly if neither is feasible.

More than half of the state’s superior courts have petitioned the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court for an Emergency Order declaring that the next few weeks be deemed court holidays for certain filing and statutory deadlines and allowing the court to temporarily close except to handle emergency services. As of the afternoon of March 18, 2020, the Chief Justice had granted 30 of these orders. Each order can be accessed here:

Additionally, although many courts are announcing closures, courts that offer electronic filing, such as Los Angeles, Orange County, San Francisco, and Santa Clara, are still accepting and returning completed filings.

In the Bay Area, where six counties have issued shelter-in-place orders through April 7, the courts have implemented even stronger measures to halt the spread of COVID-19. In particular, these courts have closed to the general public and have suspended all non-emergency services through mid-April. Hearing and trial dates originally set within the closure timeframe will be rescheduled by the Court. However, while some courts such as San Francisco Superior have already instituted automatic continuances for civil and criminal jury matters, many others have left continuances within the discretion of the assigned judge. Therefore, parties must remain vigilant of future scheduling changes and maintain compliance with present filing deadlines, or work with their opposing counsel to formally request a postponement.

The local courts are not the only institutions to enforce temporary adjustments to judicial procedures. On March 16, the California Supreme Court issued an order suspending in-person oral arguments until “deemed prudent to resume normal measures.” In addition, the federal district courts have continued all jury trials through mid-April, or even through May 1, if the case is filed in the Northern or Eastern Districts of California. Due to the already heavy emphasis on efiling in the federal courts, all current filing deadlines remain in place. Only the Northern District has closed its doors to the public, with the exception for “official court business.”

The courts’ reactions to COVID-19 are rapidly evolving in response to the changing nature of the pandemic each day. McDowell Hetherington continues to monitor the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on litigation in California and throughout the country.

For more information, please contact MH attorney Jodi Swick.