LOS ANGELES (CNS) — Claiming unsafe conditions related to the spread of the Coronavirus, unions representing Los Angeles County public defenders, district attorneys and city attorneys called Wednesday for the immediate closure of the Los Angeles Superior Courts.
“The Superior Court has failed to adapt its operation and accommodate telephonic appearances and video conferencing during this time of crisis,” the unions said in a joint statement. “Conditions in these courthouses are not safe and put our members, their families and the public at risk.”
Separately, the First Amendment Coalition, joined by other advocates, argued for the public’s right to access court proceedings, sending a letter to California Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye.
“Courts across California are halting proceedings, restricting access to buildings and holding some hearings telephonically, raising concerns that members of the public and the press, who are exempt from the state’s stay- at-home order, will face insurmountable barriers to access,” according to the letter by FAC and joined by several organizations, including the California News Publishers Association and multiple California chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Civil Liberties Union.
On Monday, Cantil-Sakauye suspended all jury trials in California’s superior courts for 60 days and allowed courts to immediately adopt new rules to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the same day, Los Angeles County Superior Court Presiding Judge Kevin C. Brazile signed an order restricting access to all Los Angeles County courthouses to judges, commissioners, court staff and authorized people until further notice, while also mandating social distancing of at least six feet. That order specified that news reporters and media representatives are among those considered authorized to access the court buildings.
The unions claim that mandate is not being enforced and members of the public are being allowed into courthouses.
Without accommodation for hearings by video conference or phone, close contact of less than six feet is required for attorneys, inmates and court personnel to do their jobs, according to the unions.
“The current courtroom conditions force public defenders to have close contact with people in custody who cannot social distance or take appropriate precautions. Our continued contact increases the risk of infection to other employees and to our families,” said Nikhil Ramnaney, president of Local 148, which represents public defenders.