The Superior Court of Los Angeles County began scaling back operations today with a view to establishing social distancing in all of its 38 courthouses to avoid the spread of the coronavirus.
Additional public protection measures will be evaluated and could be announced by Tuesday, according to a statement from the court.
"As the largest trial court in the nation, the Superior Court of Los Angeles County is methodically scaling back non-essential court operations as part of a phased approach," Presiding Judge Kevin C. Brazile said. "We will continue to provide services for the most vulnerable in our communities and remain open to handle criminal matters subject to statutory deadlines."
Over the weekend, Brazile notified the judges of the Los Angeles County bench that:
- No new jurors will be summoned for any civil or criminal jury trials for the next 30 days;
- The trial judge for any jury trial in session may exercise his or her discretion to either continue the trial or declare a mistrial;
- The trial judge for any non-jury trial in session may exercise his or her discretion to either continue the trial or declare a mistrial;
- Self-help centers will be closed, except for telephone assistance with restraining order preparation by calling 213-830-0845.
Defendants are still required to appear as scheduled and some hearings and trials underway will continue if the responsible judge chooses to do so rather than rescheduling. A sheriff's department spokeswoman said deputies are transporting inmates to court as usual in compliance with court orders.
"We're sending everybody to court (as required)," Deputy Trina Schrader told City News Service.
At least one major case, the murder trial of New York real estate heir Robert Durst -- in which testimony was scheduled to resume Monday -- was pushed back to April 6th.
It was not immediately clear how the plans to scale back operations might affect the planned extradition of former film producer Harvey Weinstein, who was convicted of rape in New York, to Los Angeles to stand trial on additional charges of sexual assault.
Judges were urged to consider ways to achieve social distancing in their courtrooms by offering telephonic appearances and other strategies to reduce courtroom traffic, according to the court system.
Court officials said signs will be posted at courthouse entry points and on courtroom doors advising the public about restrictions on entering courthouses or courtrooms.
The court also said it will continue to communicate updates on its Twitter page.
It added that the court has expanded its custodial cleaning program and has made sanitizing products available throughout courthouses in response to CDC and Los Angeles County Department of Public Health recommendations.
The Superior Court of Los Angeles County has 550 judicial officers and more than 4,600 permanent employees serving a population of more than 10 million people. The largest trial court in the nation, the court has 38 courthouses in 12 judicial districts throughout the county's 4,752 square miles.