California Judicial Council OKs suspending eviction, foreclosure proceedings, zero bail for misdemeanors
The California Judicial Council approved new rules Monday for the state’s courtrooms that include eliminating bail for defendants charged with misdemeanors and most nonviolent felonies, and suspending judicial eviction and home foreclosure proceedings.
The meeting, which was conducted via teleconference, was the latest round in the council’s efforts to help courts cope with the coronavirus. Last week, the council OK’d temporary measures that pushed out time deadlines on a number of criminal proceedings, including preliminary evidentiary hearings and jury trials.
Those measures were approved “Temporarily, with a capital T,” emphasized Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, and will remain in effect until 90 days after the end of the state of emergency declared by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The measures are part of an “ongoing collective effort to flatten the curve,” Cantil-Sakauye said during Monday’s meeting. “To say there is no playbook is a gross understatement of the situation.”
Above all, Cantil-Sakauye said, the council’s measures are intended to “balance access to justice with a safe court environment.”
To that end, the council approved a series of measures to ensure uniformity across the state in how access is being handled. Some of those measures include allowing courts to require judicial proceedings and court operations be conducted remotely, with the defendant’s consent; and allowing defendants to appear via counsel or remote technologies for pretrial criminal hearings.
“I would hesitate to suspend a defendant’s constitutional right to appear in court unless there is a compelling reason, and no reasonable alternative,” noted Los Angeles County Superior Court Presiding Judge Eric C. Taylor, adding that he supports remote appearances and has been working to provide that option.
The council adopted a statewide emergency bail schedule that sets bail at zero dollars for most misdemeanor and lower level felony offenses, with Cantil-Sakauye emphasizing that “Zero bail is not no bail.” She noted that higher bail would be at the discretion of the local courts for more serious offenses, and stated implementation would go into effect April 13.
That move drew praise from Nevada County Public Defender Keri Klein.
“The council has acknowledged that it is critical to the health and safety of some of our most vulnerable citizens that there be a uniform bail schedule that sets all misdemeanor bail amounts at zero and many felony bail amounts at zero,” Klein said in an email. “That uniform bail schedule demonstrates that a careful weighing of community health and public safety was made. … I appreciate the consideration they made of the health and safety of my incarcerated clients.”
District Attorney Cliff Newell said many of the issues being worked out at the state level had already been dealt with locally.
“Our court, public defender, probation, sheriff and my office have all been proactive and collaborative dealing with issues that COVID-19 presents us with,” Newell said in an email. “The order will just give some clarification on some of the orders previously made by the governor and the chief justice. We’ve come up with protocols to keep our courts moving forward and have been able to divert, or delay, current cases where appropriate and deal with the serious cases as required. We have already put in place video appearances where appropriate and have worked out strategies for social distancing for those folks appearing in court. The majority of the paperwork generated is being handled electronically, further reducing hand-to-hand contact between the agencies.”
Newell added that the bail issue also had been handled at the local level.
“In Nevada County, we dealt with that weeks ago by authorizing law enforcement to cite and release these offenders to come to court at a later date, making bail a non-issue in most cases,” he said. “Watching this crisis develop across the state, I’m proud of how, as a team, we’ve handled it in Nevada County.”
Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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