Af­ter shel­ter or­der, Bay Area courts con­dense more

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - NEWS - By Robert Sa­longa and An­gela Ruggiero

Af­ter a sweep­ing Bay Area-wide shel­ter-in-place or­der was is­sued Mon­day by the re­gion’s pub­lichealth of­fi­cers to slow the rapid spread of coron­avirus, county courts through­out the Bay Area an­nounced they were fur­ther re­duc­ing ser­vices, save for a nar­row seg­ment of hear­ings that mostly in­volve pub­lic-safety mat­ters.

In line with the mul­ti­county or­der for peo­ple to stay home un­less they are per­form­ing “es­sen­tial” func­tions or tasks, the superior courts of Alameda and San Ma­teo coun­ties an­nounced more sweep­ing clo­sures in their court sys­tem from Tues­day un­til at least April 7.

Ad­di­tion­ally, jail vis­i­ta­tion has been dras­ti­cally re­duced or sus­pended al­to­gether through­out the Bay Area. Tues­day, Santa Clara County an­nounced a mora­to­rium on jail vis­its, and that in­mates would be “gifted” two five-minute calls per week dur­ing the du­ra­tion of the shel­ter­ing or­der. In Con­tra Costa County, the Sher­iff’s Of­fice has sus­pended most vis­i­tors to the county’s jail fa­cil­i­ties; at­tor­neys will still be al­lowed to have non­con­tact vis­its with their clients.

A let­ter sent to an ar­ray of Santa Clara County of­fi­cials from the Coali­tion of Jus­tice and Ac­count­abil­ity — an al­liance of South Bay civil-rights groups — re­newed calls echoed across the coun­try for ag­gres­sive ef­forts to re­duce jail pop­u­la­tions through mea­sures like post­pon­ing jail sen­tences for out-of-cus­tody de­fen­dants, eas­ing en­force­ment on non-vi­o­lent of­fenses and pro­ba­tion vi­o­la­tions, and grant­ing early re­leases to el­derly or in­firm in­mates and those in the fi­nal months of their jail sen­tences.

For those still in jail, the coali­tion wants au­thor­i­ties and of­fi­cials to of­fer ac­com­mo­da­tions in­clud­ing mak­ing video call and phone ser­vices free for the du­ra­tion of the shel­ter­ing or­der; elim­i­nat­ing markups and trans­ac­tion fees for com­mis­sary pur­chases; and im­prov­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion av­enues for fam­i­lies of in­mates so they can be up to date on their con­di­tions.

Le­gal ex­perts and de­fense at­tor­neys have ar­gued that be­sides ex­tended jail stays and case de­lays that in­fringe on de­fen­dants’ due process rights, the court slow­downs are keep­ing de­fen­dants in a jail en­vi­ron­ment that had acute health risks that are now com­pounded by COVID-19.

Last week, two Santa Clara County jail in­mates were placed into quar­an­tine af­ter a jail vis­i­tor who in­ter­viewed them tested pos­i­tive for the virus. This news or­ga­ni­za­tion, cit­ing mul­ti­ple sources, con­firmed it was an at­tor­ney with the county pub­lic de­fender’s of­fice. Then Mon­day, Santa Clara County Sher­iff Lau­rie Smith said two more in­mates were iso­lated as a pre­cau­tion be­cause they were the re­cip­i­ents of mail from the same per­son, though Smith said their ex­po­sure risks were more re­mote. She added that none of the quar­an­tined in­mates have ex­hib­ited symp­toms of COVID-19.

Back at the court­rooms, Santa Clara County has ex­cused jury duty re­quire­ments for those called up dur­ing the three-week shel­ter or­der, and is keep­ing some court­rooms open for crim­i­nal felony, mis­de­meanor, do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and fam­ily vi­o­lence ar­raign­ments, and pre­lim­i­nary hear­ings where a de­fen­dant in­voked their right to a speedy trial. Other cases still be­ing heard in­volved do­mes­tic-vi­o­lence re­strain­ing or­ders, ju­ve­nile de­pen­dency de­ten­tions, emer­gency men­tal health re­views, civil ha­rass­ment re­strain­ing or­ders, se­lect con­ser­va­tor­ship mat­ters, and ju­ve­nile de­ten­tions.

In San Ma­teo County, the Superior Court an­nounced Mon­day that it ob­tained an emer­gency or­der from Cal­i­for­nia Supreme Court Chief Jus­tice Tani Can­til-Sakauye au­tho­riz­ing the Penin­sula courts to sus­pend all tri­als for up to 30 days, and that court hear­ings en­com­pass­ing civil, small claims, traf­fic, fam­ily law and pro­bate mat­ters be con­tin­ued or resched­uled. Crim­i­nal cases are also or­dered post­poned ex­cept in cases where a de­fen­dant in­voked their right to a speedy trial.

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