California’s Judicial Council on Monday enacted nearly a dozen hastily crafted rule changes designed to keep as many people as possible out of courthouses while maintaining basic judicial operations as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the state surpassed 15,000.
The emergency regulations temporarily restrict eviction proceedings, set a reduced bail schedule, encourage remote appearances for hearings and toll deadlines in civil matters. The changes stem from a March 27 executive order signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom freeing judicial branch leaders from restrictions on setting statewide trial court rules addressing COVID-19.
“Jurists and lawyers have struggled and continue to struggle to balance the health and safety needs of their local communities with the civil and constitutional rights and liberties of individuals and groups,” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye told an emergency meeting of the Judicial Council.
“Today as part of our ongoing collective efforts to flatten the curve, stem the spread of the virus and assume the responsibility delegated to us by governor Newsom … we seek to address the issues of the faces behind the cases and those that support them seeking relief, resolving disputes or having their voice heard by the court,” Cantil-Sakauye said.
The rule changes include:
>> Suspending summons and entries of default in landlord-tenant disputes. New rules will also freeze all actions on judicial foreclosures on mortgages and deeds of trust. The action dovetails with an executive order issued by the governor last month barring the eviction of tenants who cannot pay rent due to pandemic-related reasons. Before Monday’s action by the Judicial Council, some courts had halted unlawful detainer matters while others continued to process them.
>> Allowing courts to conduct proceedings through video feed or other remote technology—with the consent of defendants. That caveat drew opposition from some judges and sheriffs who did not want to give defendants the choice of whether to physically appear in court.
Appellate Justice Marsha Slough, chair of the Judicial Council’s executive and planning committee, said she had talked with many critics of that language but was unpersuaded to strike the defendant’s consent.
“Having the right to do it and being the right thing to do are different things,” Slough said. “We are not at the point in time to do away with the rights of a defendant because it would be more expedient.”
>> Setting a statewide emergency bail schedule. Cantil-Sakauye had previously recommended that courts reduce bail levels to keep as many defendants as possible out of local jails. This statewide mandate will set bail at $0 for most misdemeanor and lower-level felony offenses.
>> Tolling the statute of limitations for all civil causes of action. Sought by the Consumer Attorneys of California and other groups, the rule will stop the clock on civil matters filed between April 6 and the date 90 days after Newsom lifts the state of emergency related to COVID-19.
The emergency rule also extends the timelines for bringing civil matters to trial by six months.
The Judicial Council’s approval of the rules follows its endorsement last month of emergency procedures aimed mostly at criminal proceedings, including delaying the deadlines for arraigning defendants and holding preliminary hearings.