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Criminal Law in the Pandemic Era in Orange County, CA

When the pandemic hit Orange County in March of 2020, the courts were unsure how to deal with it. Lawyers didn’t know what to wear when they came to

court. I saw lawyers with gloves and face masks and I laughed. Little did I know that within a few weeks I wouldn’t be laughing anymore. I too would be

wearing a mask and gloves when I made court appearances. Then the courts shut down completely, except for a few limited cases where the defendants

were in custody and had to be arraigned (brought to court in custody for their first appearance).

 

As the months progressed through April and May and into June, defendants Constitutional Rights to a speedy trial and due process were suspended pursuant

to California Supreme Court orders claiming it was an emergency due to Covid-19. Defendants who had waived their right to be tried in a timely fashion

found that their cases were continued without notice. Cases were placed into suspended animation. The court set up electronic files where the cases sat

suspended with no movement towards resolution.

 

Slowly as Summer turned into Fall, the courts came back to life with cases being put back on calendar. The court came up with forms that attorneys could use

to request that cases come back on calendar. Misdemeanor Action Request (MAR) and Felony Action Request (FAR) forms became the way to move your case

from suspension to action in the courtroom. Unfortunately, many times the District Attorney’s Office wasn’t prepared to meaningfully discuss the cases once

they were put on the court’s calendar. Most of the District Attorneys were working from home and didn’t have necessary access to their files or have the tools

needed to resolve the issues they faced.

 

Electronic appearances by way of WebEx or simply the phone have become the norm. Often times if defense counsel do appear in person, the DA assigned to

the courtroom is not present but is working remotely. Under that situation, no meaningful settlement negotiations can take place between the defense

counsel and the prosecutor. Such is still the case, resulting in many cases just languishing with all the participants suffering.

 

As the number of Covid-19 cases continue to rise in the community, the court will struggle with an enormous backlog of cases that remain but haven’t been

brought forward to be dealt with. How the court expeditiously responds to the crush of cases that are awaiting adjudication will be the challenge for 2021. If

you have a case pending in the Orange County court system you will need a lawyer’s assistance as everyone will be dealing with an ever changing and

challenging environment.

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