Santa Barbara County Superior Court closed most of its courtrooms from Tuesday through April 3 due to concerns from the coronavirus pandemic.
County Presiding Judge Michael Carrozzo asked the California Judicial Council for an emergency order on Sunday, which was then signed Monday by California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye.
She gave Judge Carrozzo the authority to implement emergency procedures in county courts under Government Code section 68115, which gives the Judicial Council chair, Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye, wide-ranging powers to mitigate a disaster’s effects on superior courts.
Every county with two or more judges has a presiding judge who leads the county superior court and assigns judges to cases.
Late Monday, Judge Carrozzo ordered one criminal arraignment courtroom to remain open at the Santa Barbara County Superior-Figueroa Division, at 118 E. Figueroa St. The judge assigned to the courtroom will only hear cases where the defendant is being held in County Jail.
He also ordered the Santa Maria Court Complex, at 312 E. Cook St., in Santa Maria, to make one criminal arraignment court available for custody cases only.
One Santa Barbara Juvenile Court courtroom will remain open, at 1108 Santa Barbara St., and one Santa Maria Juvenile Court courtroom will remain open, at 4285 California Boulevard in Santa Maria.
Judge Carrozzo ordered one courtroom in Santa Barbara and one in Santa Maria to be available for emergency ex parte temporary restraining orders and other emergency orders.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys must reschedule all criminal trials through April 3, according to Judge Carrozzo’s order.
Attorneys must also reschedule all civil, family, probate and child support cases set during the same period.
The order also extends statutory deadlines for bringing criminal and civil cases to trial that would expire through April 3 by up to 20 days.
On Tuesday morning, the order caused tension in the Figueroa Division arraignment courtroom. Judge Clifford Anderson declined to hear any criminal cases that were not in arraignment status.
Senior Deputy Public Defender Jenny Andrews asked Judge Anderson to hear a criminal case that was not set for arraignment, but he declined to take action on the case or assign it to another courtroom.
Judge Anderson noted he only had case files for arraignment cases.
The text of the order does not specify whether the arraignment courts will only hear arraignment cases or all cases where the defendant is in County Jail. Superior Court Executive Officer Darrel Parker clarified that only arraignments are being heard in the arraignment courts.
“All other cases will be continued beyond April 3. We’re trying to minimize the number of people who come to court to prevent the spread of this virus.”
Judge Carrozzo’s complete order is available at https://twitter.com/SBSuperiorCrt/status/1239729695144284160.
Last week, Judge Carrozzo published a statement asking county judges to waive physical presence in court for criminal defendants.
Judge Carrozzo also asked those paying fines to do so online or by phone.
“The courts are not able to accommodate the motions and the other sorts of legal issues that presents; however, I do think that the courts are trying to work with us on all of this and we’re trying to work with them. It’s a day-by-day situation and we’re struggling with it right now, but everybody is struggling,” said Robert Sanger, Senior Partner at Sanger Swysen & Dunkle.
Public Defender Tracy Macuga said the courtroom closures are keeping some defendants in County Jail before trial without an opportunity to ask for a bail reduction or for release on their own recognizance.
They also prevent inmates who have accepted a plea agreement from being released at sentencing.
“We’ll be making objections and otherwise trying to get people to trial sooner,” defense attorney William C. Makler said.
Mr. Makler is an officer of Santa Barbara Defenders, an organization of over 40 local criminal defense attorneys.
“We don’t want them to spend longer periods of time as pretrial detainees without the process that is afforded by our Constitution, the idea that the time you spend in custody pending trial would have a limit to it. There are human rights and civil liberties at stake here,” Mr. Makler said. “These are things that we’ll be taking a closer look at strong criminal defense advocates will be making objections and otherwise trying to get people to trial sooner or if they can’t get them released from custody sooner.”