Out of the Pandemic Comes an Alternative Courthouse

The San Diego County Superior Courthouse, opened in 2017. (Courthouse News photo / Chris Marshall)

(CN) — In the wake of a statewide shutdown that also sent sheriffs to lock courthouse doors, lawyers in San Diego started an extraordinary program to stand in for their paralyzed courts.

Amy Martel, a partner with the San Diego personal injury firm Chihak & Martel, heads a task force of consumer attorneys that formed out of the Covid-19 crisis to advise the court on how to handle the logjam in its civil division.

The group was conceived after Martel contacted presiding Judge Lorna Alksne at the beginning of the shutdown, asking how the bar could help. “She made it clear that her hands were full with criminal and how to deal with the constitutional issues of criminal. So civil was not a priority, which I understand.” Martel said. “I asked if we could create a task force to communicate with the court and troubleshoot what was becoming a clear backlog of cases.”

Later this month, the task force will launch Resolve Law San Diego, a volunteer-run dispute resolution program, where parties can stipulate to have their cases heard before a panel of retired judges and lawyers. Parties can sign up through its website, www.resolvelawsandiego.com, which the group projects will be up and running on May 18.

“We are going to get a panel of volunteer retired judges and lawyers to donate their time pro bono to give litigants an opportunity to use the program for free,” Martel said.

 Mediation sessions and two-hour law and motion hearings will be available, and the volunteers will also hear some family law and probate matters that can be resolved with nonbinding orders. 

Resolve Law is set to run for 120 days, and has the blessing of Judge Randa Trapp, head of the court’s civil division.

“It is not a court sponsored  program but Judge Trapp is appreciative of our efforts and thinks it is a wonderful opportunity,” Martel said.

It will also encourage and promote the use of the court’s existing alternative dispute resolution and mediation programs.

“All these hearings will occur via Zoom or telephone while the stay at home order is in effect,” Martel said. 

She said the idea is to take action in the face of a crisis.

“The idea is to have as many areas of civil litigation represented because we’re all suffering,” Martel said. “We can all sit back and say, ‘this is awful,’ but what can we do about it?”

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