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San Diego Superior Court Halts All Non-Emergency Services

People linger in front of the San Diego Central Courthouse, Feb. 14, 2018.
Claire Trageser
People linger in front of the San Diego Central Courthouse, Feb. 14, 2018.

Jurors summoned for service before April 3 asked not to report

Update: 3/16/2020 at 5:30 P.M.

The San Diego Superior Court has suspended all non-emergency services, including criminal, civil, family and traffic court proceedings, to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The stoppage takes effect on Tuesday, March 17 and is set to last until April 3.

Jurors summoned for service before April 3 are also asked not to report to the courthouse. This reverses an announcement made earlier in the day that jurors already assigned to a trial should report for service on Monday.

Jurors summoned past April 5, 2020 are asked to monitor the court's website, sdcourt.ca.gov, for further updates.

The court will be available for chamber ex-parte requests for civil harassment temporary restraining orders, domestic violence restraining orders and gun violence protective orders at each branch.

Only one family law judge at each court branch will be available to handle emergency requests for temporary restraining orders and guardianship requests where a minor's safety is at risk. One juvenile judge and one probate judge will also be available for emergency orders.

Update: 3/16/2020 at 7:45 A.M.

The San Diego Superior Court announced this morning that it is asking people who have been summoned for jury duty to not report this week (March 16-19). However, it is asking those who are already seated on a jury or in deliberations to report.

The court's announcement follows the urging by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to limit gatherings to less than 50 people.

“While we had COVID-19 procedures in place to provide enough social distancing for summoned jurors in our jury services room, having a jury pool of 50 people will not provide us with enough people for fair trials,” says San Diego Superior Court Presiding Judge Lorna Alksne.

The Superior Court is asking prospective jurors summoned to appear after March 19 to check its website for updates.

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While schools, churches, sports venues and cultural institutions throughout San Diego County are shut down in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, courtrooms will remain open for the time being.

Most jurors are expected to report to the San Diego Superior Court as normal, and so far only civil cases have been delayed, according to a court spokeswoman.

All civil trials have been delayed for 30 days "in an effort to reduce the need for jurors and meet the state health guidelines on large crowds," said spokeswoman Karen Dalton. "Jurors are still expected to report to the courthouse but we are working on a procedure to meet the state guideline."

In addition, if parties agree and the court approves, all out-of-custody misdemeanors except domestic violence and all non-violent out-of-custody felonies except domestic violence will be delayed 30 days.

Only jurors who are feeling ill with symptoms associated with coronavirus or have traveled to countries with the worst outbreaks should reschedule their jury service, according to an update posted on the court's website Friday.

The countries on the court’s list include: China, Iran, South Korea, Italy, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City.

In addition, people can request a postponement in jury service if they are pregnant, 60 and older, have underlying health conditions or weakened immune systems.

To reschedule your jury service, you can email JurySupport@SDCourt.ca.gov, call (619) 844-2800 or go to www.sdcourt.ca.gov.

People summoned to East County or North County divisions should appear as scheduled, Dalton said. If you are summoned for service at the Central Courthouse in downtown San Diego, you should check the court's website at 5 p.m. the day before your scheduled service date to check if your group has been called in to report.

The court's announcement comes a day after the state and county limited public events and reminded people to practice social distancing, which means staying at least 6 feet away from each other.

The Jury Commissioner will ensure no more than 250 jurors will be present in the Jury Lounge at any time to allow space for jurors to practice social distancing, Dalton said. And the courthouse is increasing cleaning and will install hand sanitizing stations.

Melinda Gonzalez reported to jury duty on Thursday and said there were a lot of people there but it wasn't over crowded.

"People were able to sit every other seat in the rows or at the tables around the room while some people choose to stand at the back of the room," she said.

She said she saw one person wearing a mask and lots of people were using hand sanitizer.

"Fellow jurors were a bit surprised that jury duty was still taking place considering that other places around the county and throughout the state have begun to close off unnecessary in person contact of large groups," she said. "I myself was surprised to see the amount of people reporting for jury duty as I thought it would be a much smaller turnout. During the time that I spent there yesterday I personally felt safe and didn't have any major concerns."

Nee Nee Torbert, an advocate with the criminal justice nonprofit Pillars of the Community, said when she spent the day in court Thursday, it seemed business as normal. Normally crowded courtrooms, especially in misdemeanor court, were a little less crowded, she said.

Still, there were plenty of people and they were not keeping more than 6 feet apart, she said.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California also announced on its website Friday that business was continuing at normal, for now.

"If you are required to appear in court or are called as a juror, and are experiencing any flu like symptoms, have a fever, are coughing or sneezing, please contact the court before appearing," the website said.

Some other states, including Massachusetts and Connecticut, have postponed all jury trials. The Supreme Court also closed to the public.

San Diego Superior Court Halts All Non-Emergency Services
Listen to this story by Claire Trageser.

Corrected: September 25, 2022 at 7:19 AM PDT
Andrew Bowen contributed to this story.
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