header image

[Sign Up Now] to Receive Our FREE Daily SCVTV-SCVNews Digest by E-Mail

Inside
Weather
Santa Clarita CA
Sunny
Sunny
90°F
 
Calendar
Today in
S.C.V. History
August 15
1849 - Eight-pound gold nugget found in San Feliciano Canyon (Val Verde/Piru area) [story]
map


| Thursday, Mar 26, 2020
Los Angeles County Superior Court
The Stanley Mosk Courthouse of the LA County Superior Court. Los Angeles Superior Court, the largest court in the nation, barred the public from entering the courthouse but has allowed the media to enter, consistent with the governor’s statewide order. (Photo credit: Nathan Solis/CNS).

 

By Maria Dinzeo
(CN) — As California courts shut their doors to the public, First Amendment advocates and press groups are asking the state’s chief justice to ensure that the media can still cover court hearings, which are ongoing, and review new court records, which continue to be filed.

The First Amendment Coalition sent Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye a letter Wednesday urging her and the Judicial Council, the administrative body for the courts, to advise California’s trial courts on methods for keeping the courts open for press coverage, even as courthouses shut their physical doors to the public.

“First, telephonic hearings must be conducted on conference lines that make some allowance for free public usage. And dial-in information must be readily available to the public in advance of the hearing,” the letter says.

“Second, criminal proceedings, such as arraignments and sentencing, that take place in courtrooms or via video must in some way be open to the public and press,” the letter continues.

“Third, court records must remain publicly available,” the letter says. “Access will come to a screeching halt if clerks’ offices are closed to the public.”

California Supreme Court headquarters in San Francisco. (Photo credit: Coolcaesar/Wikipedia)
The letter goes on to argue that courts should move toward making all records available on their websites.

“If records cannot be made available online, courts should make arrangements for access in some other manner. Moreover, courts should waive any fees for online access at least until normal operations resume.”

Courts are excluded from Governor Gavin Newsom’s March 19 order shutting down all nonessential businesses, as are members of the press. But some restrictions have been necessary to slow the rate of infection in California.

In a letter to presiding judges statewide on March 20, Cantil-Sakauye empowered the courts to suspend all civil trials, prioritize criminal arraignments and restraining orders and eliminate bail to ease the burden of necessary court appearances.

The emergency relief order was limited, however, given the independence of each of the state’s 58 trial courts.

In the following weeks, California’s 58 superior courts trimmed operations drastically, with some closing courtrooms except for emergency hearings. Others vacated or indefinitely postponed all civil proceedings, still others switched to telephonic court hearings only. A number of courts, however, continued to hear criminal matters.

The varied approaches prompted local district attorneys throughout California to write to the chief justice, asking for uniformity. The chief, Cantil-Sakauye, quickly issued an order on March 23 suspending all jury trials statewide for 60 days, citing health regulations that recommend staying six feet away from people.

In the days before and after that order, many superior courts in California closed their doors to the public entirely. Some allowed press reporters to enter, in keeping with Gov. Newsom’s statewide order, while others barred the press along with the public.

Orange County Superior, for example, closed its doors to the public on March 17th and barred the press as well. At the same time, the court was live-streaming a few criminal hearings on its website.

On the civil side, lawyers continue to electronically file civil cases at the Orange County courthouse. But those civil filings are not being docketed by the clerk’s staff. Most of the staff was sent home March 13 for two weeks with full pay but without the ability to work online.

In contrast to many courts in California, Orange County has fought tooth and nail to preserve a docket-before-access policy. As a result, most of those filings cannot be reviewed and remain in effect sealed.

In the county next door, Los Angeles Superior Court, the largest court in the nation, barred the public from entering the courthouse but has allowed the media to enter, consistent with the governor’s statewide order. In addition, new civil filings in Los Angeles continue to be reviewed by the media as soon as they are received, before docketing.

In Northern California, San Mateo Superior Court, for example, receives electronic filings but has not docketed any of them since March 18th, essentially sealing them. The court had earlier refused an online option that would have allowed the press to see publicly filed judicial records before docketing, as is done in Los Angeles and a number of state courts in California.

San Francisco Superior Court, by contrast, is allowing lawyers to drop off their new filings in the lobby, and the staff is docketing those new filings and making them available for review online.

The First Amendment Coalition is asking for consistency within the court policies on public and press access.

“We recognize the severe health crises we all face as a society and applaud your leadership in issuing the March 23 Statewide Order,” the First Amendment Coalition’s letter read. “At the same time, we need to recognize that important civil liberties and constitutional rights should not be unduly restricted. While courts are closing buildings, halting proceedings and holding some hearings telephonically, we are concerned members of the press and public will face insurmountable barriers to access judicial records and proceedings.”

Glen Smith, litigation director for the coalition said in an interview, “The chief justice and the judicial council should remind the courts up and down the state that they need to make some kind of accommodation for public and press access. We don’t have secret court proceedings in this country.”

Most telephonic hearings are conducted through CourtCall, an expensive phone conference system primarily used by attorneys. CourtCall CEO Robert Alvarado said he would temporarily waive fees for reporters trying to call into courtrooms, but many courts have not publicized it as an option.

“We’re just asking for reasonable accommodations. We don’t expect people to jeopardize their health, but if they’re using systems like CourtCall or teleconferencing or video conferencing, that they find ways to make allowances,” Smith said.

The coalition’s letter was co-signed by several chapters of the ACLU and Society of Professional Journalists, along with Californians Aware, the California News Publishers Association, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Informed California Foundation, and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Jim Ewert, CNPA General Counsel, said the letter is more of a notice to the Judicial Council and chief justice to keep the free press in mind as the California courts shut their doors but continue to operate.

“We haven’t heard too many horror stories yet but we have heard that there have been difficulties in accessing newly filed complaints in some jurisdictions,” Ewert said. “We’re trying to get out in front of it as the courts are grappling with how they’re going to deal with this, and only the most essential hearings are being held right now. It’s important that the public still be considered in how that process is set up.”

He said courts can post clear notices about how the press and the public can access telephonic hearings.

“We just want to ensure that the process continues to be as open and transparent as it can be in these really difficult times. The Judicial Council, as the administrative arm of the courts, is the appropriate body to make those decisions and make them in a manner as uniform as possible,” Ewert said.

Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky said the presumption should lean toward transparency even in the midst of a public health crisis.

“Obviously, this is an unprecedented situation. But court proceedings and court records should be ‘open.’ The press and the public should be able to ‘attend’ electronic proceedings that they could have attended in person. Put another way, the public health emergency necessitates closing the physical courthouses, but it does not warrant greater secrecy.”

Comment On This Story
COMMENT POLICY: We welcome comments from individuals and businesses. All comments are moderated. Comments are subject to rejection if they are vulgar, combative, or in poor taste.
REAL NAMES ONLY: All posters must use their real individual or business name. This applies equally to Twitter account holders who use a nickname.

0 Comments

You can be the first one to leave a comment.

Leave a Comment


LOS ANGELES COUNTY HEADLINES
Friday, Aug 12, 2022
Avian influenza refers to a family of influenza or flu viruses that commonly infect birds.
Friday, Aug 12, 2022
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health confirmed 19 new deaths throughout L.A. County, 3,995 new cases countywide and 112 new cases in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Friday, Aug 12, 2022
Work along the I-5 corridor in Burbank continues and will include nighttime lane reductions and the closing of the Verdugo Avenue off-ramp during the week of Aug. 15 to Aug. 18.
Friday, Aug 12, 2022
As the summer travel season wraps up, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department reminds drivers to be responsible and never drive under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.
Friday, Aug 12, 2022
The county of Los Angeles Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission is hosting a Special Hearing on Deputy Gangs in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Keep Up With Our Facebook
Latest Additions to SCVNews.com
1849 - Eight-pound gold nugget found in San Feliciano Canyon (Val Verde/Piru area) [story]
map
1986 - Canyon Country's Mitchell adobe demolished; components salvaged & later rebuilt at Heritage Junction [story]
Mitchell adobe
1961 - First Mass celebrated at new Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church (3rd building) in Newhall. Cardinal McIntyre attends [story]
OLPH
Are you worried about getting diabetes? Have you been told that you have pre-diabetes? One out of three American adults has prediabetes.
Aug. 16: Henry Mayo Hosts Diabetes Prevention Program
Avian influenza refers to a family of influenza or flu viruses that commonly infect birds.
L.A. County Public Health Urges Public to Protect Pet Birds from Bird Flu
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health confirmed 19 new deaths throughout L.A. County, 3,995 new cases countywide and 112 new cases in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Friday COVID Roundup: County Moves to Medium Community Level
Marvel Comics’ best-known, tree-like sentient being, Groot, a character that became widely popular through the action comedy "Guardians of the Galaxy," gets his own animated show on Disney+ this week.
CalArts Alum Kirsten Lepore Brings ‘I am Groot’ to Disney+
Work along the I-5 corridor in Burbank continues and will include nighttime lane reductions and the closing of the Verdugo Avenue off-ramp during the week of Aug. 15 to Aug. 18.
I-5 Corridor Improvements Include Nighttime Lane Reductions
As part of his legislative package calling on accountability, transparency, and integrity in the state government's procurement process, Senator Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, announced Senate Bill 1271 (SB 1271) passed out of the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Aug. 11.
Wilk’s Measure Increasing Transparency Passes Assembly Committee
The early portion of The Master's University women's soccer team's schedule in 2022 will have a national tournament-type feel.
TMU Women’s Soccer To Play Top Teams on Florida, Indiana Trips
Princess Cruises today announced updated COVID-19 protocols and guidelines, removing the vaccine requirement for most voyages of less than 16 days so that anyone can cruise and adjusting pre-travel testing requirements to make it less complicated.
Princess Cruises Removes Vaccine Requirement for Most Sailings
As the summer travel season wraps up, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department reminds drivers to be responsible and never drive under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.
Aug. 17-Sept. 5: LASD Will Increase End-of-Summer DUI Patrols, Checkpoints
Historically, California has been the most wildfire prone state in the United States. In 2021, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, reported over 4,000 fires that burned 60,507 acres across the state.
Ken Striplin | Keep Your Family, Home and Property Safe from Wildfires
The county of Los Angeles Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission is hosting a Special Hearing on Deputy Gangs in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Aug: 19 Special Hearing on L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputy Gangs
1944 - Newhall Refinery on Sierra Highway destroyed by fire (then rebuilt) [watch film]
Newsreel
As local students get ready to head back to class for the new school year, your Salvation Army Santa Clarita Corps wants to ensure they have the supplies and resources necessary for success.
Salvation Army Santa Clarita Hosting Back-to-School Drive
The Rancho Camulos National Historic Landmark Presents: "Sundays at the Landmark" on Sunday, Aug. 28, with Dave Berg. He will present "Stories to Share.
Aug. 28: Author Dave Berg Presents ‘Stories to Share’ at Rancho Camulos
The WiSH Education Foundation's much-anticipated Cocktails on the Roof event is back for the community to enjoy on Saturday, Nov. 19, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Subaru of Valencia campus.
Nov. 19: Cocktails on the Roof Returns with ‘Share the Love’ Event
The Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station is reminding residents that no one will ever call your home demanding payment for "outstanding warrants."
SCV Sheriff’s Station Warning Residents of Scam Calls
Carousel Ranch, in Agua Dulce, was presented with a $5,000 donation from the Logix Federal Credit Union Community Stars Foundation.
Logix Foundation Donates $5K to Carousel Ranch
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health confirmed Thursday no additional deaths and 107 new cases in the Santa Clarita Valley, with a total of 15 new deaths and 4,345 new cases countywide.
Thursday COVID Roundup: 107 New SCV Cases; No Additional Deaths
The California Department of Transportation announces overnight full closures of Interstate 210 in the San Fernando Valley for striping and staging of a temporary lane configuration for a paving project.
Caltrans Announces Full I-210 Closures
The Valencia High School Band and Color Guard will hold a Clothes 4 Cash clothing drive fundraiser every Tuesday, Aug. 16 to Sept. 13.
Valencia Band, Color Guard Holding Clothes 4 Cash Fundraiser
2018 - Big Oaks Lodge in Bouquet Canyon burns down [video]
Big Oaks Lodge
SCVNews.com
%d bloggers like this: