The Coronavirus and the Court System

Whether you are watching the morning news or scrolling through your newsfeed on social media, more than likely, COVID-19 is one of the most predominant topics of conversation. Within a matter of months, COVID-19 has seemingly managed to turn the world on its axis. It is a virus that has affected the way we can interact with one another. Meeting up with your friends at your favorite local coffee shop is no longer an option. If you want to have coffee with your friend, you have to turn your kitchen into a personal café and catch up on the latest news via webcam. 

 

However, COVID-19 has done much more than impact our relationships and ability to socialize. It has afflicted the global economy, as well as the mental health of many individuals. It has resulted in the closure of businesses all across the nation, some temporarily and some permanently. It seems safe to say that COVID-19 has touched almost every single aspect of everyday life in some shape or form. Even the court and justice systems have not been able to remain unscathed. 

 

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, courts everywhere have been compelled to take action to prevent the spread of the virus, including delaying proceedings, restricting access to courthouses, and even canceling court proceedings altogether. The Orange County court system, the area that ProSrver serves, has been influenced as well. Updates on the Orange County Bar Association’s website discusses how in March of 2020, family law proceedings had to be closed to the public. The Chief Justice even recommended postponing family law proceedings, hearings, and trials for at least sixty days during that time. Civil law court procedures experienced changes as well due to COVID-19. In March, civil hearings, proceedings, and trials were suspended unless they were high-priority matters. So, what about criminal cases and traffic violations? This area was impacted too. In March of 2020, the only criminal hearings allowed were emergency motions for relief or preliminary hearings where the defendant decided not to waive their right to a hearing. The court system also decided to start using video and telephone for court appearances for this category. So, ultimately, from suspended proceedings to court appearances performed via video, nearly every facet of the Orange County Superior Court was affected in some manner by COVID-19

 

Court procedures can already take lengthy amounts of time, but with the presence of COVID-19, the time spent waiting has only increased. Individuals who were looking forward to an outcome from their court case have had to encounter further delays. According to an article from the Orange County Register, Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services received a substantial increase in phone calls.  They received twenty-two calls back in February and one thousand eight hundred in March.  The counselors at the center stated that many of these phone calls related to COVID-19 worries. While the delays in Orange County’s court proceedings may not have directly played a role in the significant increase in phone calls to the center, they probably did not do anything to soothe anxieties either. COVID-19 has not only closed the courts, but it has also negatively affected the mental health of many residents in Orange County.

Have the Restrictions Changed at All in Recent Months?

The answer is yes. Remote family law hearings can now be conducted. Additionally, services for small claims can only take place in Santa Ana, and the public has limited access. Administrative appeals can now be processed as well with limited public access and by video. Traffic proceedings will take place via video too, other than court trials. Criminal jury trials can even occur with juror seats marked off to ensure social distancing and with a limited number of seats available for the public and press. Little by little, we are seeing progressions towards getting back to normalcy. 

How Has COVID-19 Affected Our Business?

Prosrvr primarily assists with the service of process related to unlawful detainers/evictions, personal injury law, family law, employment law, and civil law. As a result, we have experienced a delay in conclusions from cases we assist with as well. While we do utilize technology in the service of process for faster results, the detainment in the court system related to COVID-19 has prevented our filings from being reviewed promptly. Now that efforts have been performed to reopen the courts here in Orange County slowly, we expect to see better results. 

 

Sources:

 

https://www.ncsl.org/research/civil-and-criminal-justice/criminal-justice-and-covid-19.aspx

 

https://www.occourts.org/media-relations/covid/20_08AdminOrderCourtClosureFamilyLaw.pdf

 

https://www.occourts.org/media-relations/covid/Civil_Order_2020_06_3rd_Amended_Re-opening_Civil_Operations_&_Rescheduled_Hearing_Plan.pdf

 

https://www.occourts.org/media-relations/covid/Criminal_Court_Plan_3-18-20_REV.pdf

 

https://www.ocregister.com/2020/04/19/suicide-help-hotline-calls-soar-in-southern-california-over-coronavirus-anxieties/

 

https://www.occourts.org/media-relations/covid/Revised_Administrative_Order_20_15_Mandating_Remote_Hearings.pdf

 

https://www.occourts.org/media-relations/covid/Small_Claims_and_Appearance_Information_v3.pdf

 

https://www.occourts.org/media-relations/covid/Administrative_Appeals_Information_and_Video_Appearance_Process_v4.pdf

 

https://www.occourts.org/media-relations/covid/20_23_Administrative_Order_Procedure_for_Conducting_Remote_Traffic_Proceedings.pdf

 

https://www.occourts.org/media-relations/covid/Administrative_Order_20_19_Procedure_for_Granting_In_Person_Public_Access_to_Criminal_Jury_Trials.pdf

 

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