The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has been around for the better part of 6 months in 2020. Yet it shows no signs of stopping. While many US states that went into lockdown, including California, are now re-opening, the pandemic continues to affect the delivery of public services.
Legal services have especially been disrupted, as courts were forced to close down except for emergency services. Although hopes were that the spread of infection may slow down, especially in light of lockdown and social distancing measures, confirmed cases continue increasing daily.
Now that states are re-opening, legal services are also opening up to the public for non-emergency matters. However, with the continued threat of COVID-19, most of these services will be altered to accommodate the threat of the virus.
This article explains how COVID-19 is impacting court hearings in San Diego and what you can expect in your civil case.
San Diego County Superior Court Resumes Most Services
The San Diego County Superior Court announced on May 26, 2020 that it is resuming most services. The court had been closed to the public for non-emergency services between March 17, 2020 and May 22, 2020.
The court will now resume hearing most of the cases that were pending before the shutdown, and set out protocols for filing new cases. Although services have resumed, these will continue on a much altered basis going forward.
Most of the court’s services are being made available online, to prevent the risk of spreading COVID-19. The court has made available several online options that parties may employ in beginning or continuing their cases. These include the CourtCall application and other options on the court’s website.
Access to the court is restricted to only those who require emergency services and even in this case, only when expressly permitted. If you have to go to the court for any reason, you will be expected to abide by all CDC-recommended coronavirus protocols. These will include wearing a face mask, having your temperature checked and maintaining social distancing.
Restrictions on in-person hearings, depositions and related matters
The court has also announced several alterations to its normal procedures to ensure people can stay safe while using court-related services. These are the result of a combination of state-wide Emergency Orders made by the Judicial Council of California and General Orders made by the San Diego County Superior Court.
According to General Order 051220-51(A), released by the court on May 13, 2020, all hearings on civil motions that were scheduled in an Independent Calendar Department have been vacated. The previous dates set for these hearings, whether during or after the restart, will no longer apply.
In addition, all case management conferences that were previously scheduled before the restart will be continued 120 days from when they originally set for. This also applies to trial and trial readiness conferences, which will now continue roughly 180 days from their original date.
All previously scheduled hearings in the court, including trials, will be rescheduled. For those who have an ongoing matter in the court, it would be best to work with your attorney to determine how the case may be rescheduled. Although, the court has stated that it is primarily attending to certain Unlawful Detainer cases at present.
Parties that wish to schedule a new hearing date for civil motions will need to:
● Meet and confer to determine if the motion is still necessary
● Schedule a Status Conference hearing with the Independent Calendar Department, if they believe the motion is necessary. The Status Conference will be scheduled via the court’s Online Civil Scheduling Assistant.
For the purpose of determining the time within which certain actions must be taken, the period during which the court was shutdown will be deemed a court holiday. For civil cases, all time requirements that specify the period within which parties must file their papers will not include the period between March 17, 2020 and May 22, 2020.
This also applies in other cases, including Juvenile cases, criminal cases and unlawful detainer cases. This allows parties to continue their cases without being unfairly prejudiced by the time that has passed since the court shutdown.
In addition, pursuant to the emergency rules enacted by the Judicial Council, statutes of limitation for all civil actions will be tolled from April 6, 2020 until 90 days after suspension of
the state of emergency in California. This ensures that claimants who have been unable to commence action in court, such as in personal injury cases, can continue after the worst of the pandemic is over.
Jury trials have been suspended till further notice. They were initially suspended by the California Chief Judge, Hon. Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, on March 23, 2020 for 60 days. The suspension has been extended since then.
In-Person Hearings and Depositions
The court is suspending in-person hearings for civil status conferences, motion hearings, case management conferences, as well as trial and trial readiness conferences. All of these hearings will be conducted via telephone or video conference through CourtCall.
The court may charge a small fee for these electronic appearances, unless the party has secured a fee waiver.
Further, by virtue of the Judicial Council’s emergency rules, depositions will not be required to be done before a deposition officer or court reporter. They may be conducted remotely, by electronic means, so long as the person making the deposition is in the same physical location as their attorney.
COVID-19 and Mediation in San Diego
Considering the likely difficulties that claimants will face in trying to access legal services during this period, many are considering alternative dispute resolution options.
However, mediation procedures have been just as affected by the coronavirus, although to a lesser extent. Due to social distancing and lockdown measures, it has been much more difficult, or even impossible, for parties to physically meet with mediators.
Most have adapted some form of Online Dispute Resolution technology to ensure parties can still access mediation options when required. Using video conferencing technology and specially created procedures, these options ensure that parties remain safe while accessing dispute resolution services.
Now that states are re-opening, certain mediation centers are also resuming in-person mediations, although these will be carried out in accordance with required safety protocols.
Understand Your Options
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to challenge us all in several ways. However, the novel situation should not deprive you of your right to swift justice if you have been hurt or had your rights violated by someone else.
We have been monitoring the COVID-19 situation since its start and will continue to do so as the situation evolves. Although we can’t predict what lies ahead, rest assured that your case continues to be a priority to us at Jurewitz Law Group Injury & Accident Lawyers. If you have any questions, concerns or have been injured from any set of circumstances during this period, contact us immediately.
We will help you understand your rights and options to secure justice during this period. It is our job to get negligent parties and the companies that insure them to respect your rights, but it is yours to get us involved and fighting on your behalf. Call (619) 349-1683 today to set up a free, no-obligation consultation with our experienced attorneys.