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COVID-19 Exposes the Infrastructural Flaws of our Court System

| Apr 1, 2020 | Blog |

California’s state court system is struggling to deal with Governor Gavin Newsom’s executive order requiring all California residents stay at home, with the exception of those engaged in critical businesses.

The response of different courts across California’s 58 counties varied considerably. As of this writing, some courts are completely closed, while others are only offering limited services. The timelines for closure or limited services are all over the map, as you can see at https://calawyers.org/court-updates/. Policy is set by the presiding judge of each court, who must obtain the approval of the Chairperson of the Judicial Council (Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court) to allow them to modify their operation. The list of actions a Presiding Judge can request are enumerated in Government Code Section 68115.

It is clear that as a state, our judicial system lacks the ability to provide much-needed services during the COVID-19 epidemic. California lost access to the 3rd branch of government. We would be far better positioned if the courts adopted a standardization practice across California’s 58 counties that mirrored the best practices of law practice management of private attorneys.

It is time for change. The technology for a harmonized, efficient court system exists. The following improvements are needed:

  • The state must invest in a single electronic docketing system interrelated between the counties;
  • All Counties should have electronic filing and judge (and the public) should have access to files electronically. Electronic files and organizational systems is the standard law office practice;
  • In addition to live court hearings and trials, create an option for:
    • Virtual hearings and trials (particularly when litigants are out of County or out of country and are unable to physically appear in court); and
    • Electronic presentation of evidence.

I have a small, 4 attorney firm. We received the notice that California was going to implement the Shelter at Home Order and within 24 hours, my entire staff was home-based and 100% functional. Phones rolled over from the main line to my staff. Our entire filing system is cloud based and we are paperless.

Were the courts to adopt the standards of practice of the private firms, there would have been no need for court closures, and the court could have shifted to virtual hearings and could have continued to provide its most vital services to the public.

Best Wishes. DML (David M. Lederman).

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