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Judicial Council votes to rescind Covid-19 orders for California courts

"I think we’re getting back to some semblance of life pre-Covid," Justice Marsha Slough said at Friday's Judicial Council business meeting, where members voted to rescind remaining Covid-19 orders on June 30.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Emergency Covid-19 rules put in place two years ago to help California courts deal with the operational pitfalls of the pandemic will expire on June 30, as the Judicial Council voted Friday for their repeal at its first in-person business meeting in two years.

The eight remaining Covid-19 rules lengthened time limits or filing civil lawsuits and bringing civil cases to trial, prioritized juvenile delinquency and dependency hearings, extended temporary restraining order or gun violence emergency protective orders and allowed defendants to appear remotely at hearings and waive their right to appear in-person at trial.

"The rules were always intended to be temporary,” said Justice Marsha Slough, chair of the council’s Executive and Planning Committee. “We believe it’s time to move past these rules.”

Last Friday, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye decided to rollback four other Covid-19 rules extending deadlines for preliminary criminal hearings from 10 to 30 days, letting courts extend time to bring civil cases to trial by up to 60 days, and giving courts authority to conduct hearings by remote technology and adopt their own local Covid-19 measures. Those rules will now expire on April 30.

The sunset of these court rules does not spell the end of all remote hearings. The legislature passed a law last year to preserve remote access to civil proceedings either by videoconference or phone.

The Judicial Council will also sponsor legislation this year to continue allowing criminal defendants to appear remotely in court.

“We do recognize that the use of remote technology became much more widely used during the pandemic and it actually provided a way for people to access the courts they way they never had before,” Slough said. “It served to be a very important response, and we appreciate the fact that remote technology made courts accessible to users. We recognize the importance of continued remote access in all case types. And we want to continue to work towards additional measures to assure there are remote proceedings in all case types.”

The move comes a few weeks after Governor Gavin Newsom lifted some of his emergency executive orders.

Slough said the action “marks a hopeful time for all of us. I think we’re getting back to some semblance of life pre-Covid.”

Judicial Council administrative director Martin Hoshino said council members should encourage judicial officers and court staff to remember that the rules were temporary and the authority on which they were predicated will expire on June 30.

“Some of those catch phrases are just fascinating out there. 'We’re going to return to the new normal.' That’s the cognitive dissonance thing going on. I encourage everyone to do their best to create clarity and help everybody move through that. People may not have the perception that this was temporary,” he said.

For the past year, Hoshino attended the Judicial Council’s meetings remotely, separated from Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye by a wall of plexiglass. Hoshino said he was glad to return to a more normal setting.

“I’m very happy to be out of the enclosed plexiglass glass booth and be in something that more closely resembles the real world,” he said.

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