Speaker 1: 00:00 As we gradually discover ways we can live with the COVID-19 virus safely. Some things which came to a grinding halt are beginning to start up again. The virus slowed the wheels of justice. When San Diego’s superior court shut down March 17th, since then some services have resumed online, but no one has received a jury summons until this month. Next month, jury trials are scheduled to begin again with safety measures in place. And joining us now is superior court presiding judge, Lorna, Oxnard. Thanks so much for joining us, Jeff Augustini. Thank you for having me. So now court cases were backed up before the COVID-19 virus. How are you doing now? How backed up is the superior court as a result of the pandemic?
Speaker 2: 00:44 Well, the, the biggest backlog is in jury trials. We have essentially caught up on all the other kinds of things that we, uh, stopped doing in the beginning of the pandemic when we closed the courthouse.
Speaker 1: 00:55 And what’s been the effect of delaying so many jury trials, what’s happened to the people whose cases have been delayed. Wow,
Speaker 2: 01:02 Well, uh, you know, there’s that famous saying justice delayed is justice denied and I’m mindful of that. Uh, in civil cases, they have just been completely delayed in criminal cases. Some defendants have remained in custody since March 17th and, uh, we were given the authority from the chief justice of the California Supreme court to extend the time for a speedy trial. And, uh, we have continued to extend that for serious and violent felons that are alleged to have committed. Those crimes are still in custody and everyone else is out. So we have about 300 people in custody, awaiting trial, which, um, normally would have already occurred. And then we have about 2000 that are out of custody that we’re given a site and release and or there was a stipulation with the prosecutor and the public defender and, or their criminal defense attorney to be out of custody while they wait for trial.
Speaker 1: 01:53 That’s, that’s pretty daunting backlog. Isn’t it? How are you going to prioritize the cases as you, as you ease back into doing business?
Speaker 2: 02:00 Well, the, the district attorney’s office is prioritizing cases with defense counsel. Uh, that’s not something that we get involved in there. I think looking at a series, a series of factors, um, seriousness of the crime, the amount of time the trial will take the number of witnesses. Um, the likelihood that the witnesses will disappear if they don’t do the trial. Now, things like that we used to do about 90 trials a month countywide, including civil and criminal and all the different branches. And what has happened is now we have this backlog of 2,400 cases, but for us to, to, uh, try to even make a dent in that backlog is going to take a lot of time because what I’m proposing in October is that we’re going to be doing one or two trials the first week that we’re reopening for jury trials. And you can imagine if we have 2,400 trials, how long it’s going to take, if we’re only doing one or two a week,
Speaker 1: 02:55 Right? So for people who are receiving jury this month, um, for many of them might be the first time that they’ve ventured out into a public space, uh, you know, doing some public service here, what has the court done to make sure that people stay safe on jury?
Speaker 2: 03:11 First thing we did was we waited until it was safe to bring people back out of their homes. I didn’t want to be in conflict with what the governor and or our local health authorities were saying. Number two, we’re asking folks to, um, be on telephone standby. So when you get a jury summons, you’re not automatically gonna come to court, you’re gonna call in and or log in to the court’s website to communicate with the court, to find out if you have to come. Uh, thirdly, we’re going to only be doing this in central, where we have a very large jury meeting room and we’ll only bring in people, uh, enough people that they can be, uh, physically distanced six feet apart. So approximately 70 people will be brought in on the very first day after those 70 are had been brought in, they’ve all been, uh, uh, screened.
Speaker 2: 03:58 Um, a random number of 25 will be sent to the, uh, uh, very large courtroom. Uh, we have three X, double sized courtrooms here in central, and they will be six feet apart. Those 25, the lawyers will then have a traditional opportunity to, uh, Valadier them. However, the jurors will all have masks that may plexiglass around the tables. The judge will be behind plexiglass and, um, once the, the Quadir has concluded and whether they have to bring up several groups of 25, it’ll be a slow kind of jury selection process. It may take several days, those 12 jurors, and however many alternates will go to what we call the plexiglass courtroom. And it’s got a jury box that is, each seat has got three sides on it. So when the juror sits down, they’ll have plexi glass behind them and on both sides of them.
Speaker 1: 04:49 Okay. And I assume that everybody will have their temperature taken when they first come into the courthouse, right?
Speaker 2: 04:54 Oh yes, absolutely. Even now, if you needed to come in because you wanted to file for a restraining order, a file for divorce file, any paperwork, drop it off in the lobby. We have dropped boxes. You still have to have your temperature checked and you have to answer the CDC questions. Have you tested for COVID? Is there any, have you recently been, um, been around anyone, those kind of questions, all jurors will have to answer those questions
Speaker 1: 05:18 And then we’re all familiar with those juries sitting around a table debating, um, the case. Is that something that will change its format?
Speaker 2: 05:27 Yes. We’re going to use an empty courtroom for jury deliberation. So they’ll have the entire courtroom just, you know, just spread out and to discuss the case.
Speaker 1: 05:37 No often jurors are people who are perhaps older, perhaps retired, which is of course the most vulnerable group. Are you calling on people over 65 to serve on jury duty?
Speaker 2: 05:47 You know, the way the random jury selection occurs through the voting rolls and through California driver’s license. Uh, we can’t self select people that are under 65. So we will send out a regular, um, jury summons to a group of 900 jurors. And if they don’t feel safe in coming for any reason, they have a comorbidity they’re over 65. They have small children at home. They’re homeschool, they’re, they’re taking care of their kids for school. They just don’t feel comfortable coming out. I don’t want anybody afraid here. I want the folks that want to go to the movies that want to go to the beach that feel comfortable using the hand sanitizer, washing their hands and wearing masks that are willing to do their civic duty and come down and be jurors. If, if you’re, if that’s not, you, you should go online and ask to postpone your service.
Speaker 1: 06:38 Are you concerned that you may not get enough?
Speaker 2: 06:41 I am. And that’s why I’m doing kind of a personal pitch for people that do feel like they can, maybe they’ve had it and they feel like they can serve now. Um, maybe they’re not in that, um, that group of over 65 and they’ve never done jury service because they had, um, a job that kept them away from doing it. Now, maybe they’re not working as much. Maybe there’s some other reason why they have the ability to serve. And it, every single person that I’ve ever spoken to that’s gotten to serve. That’s gotten to deliberate, has found it to be a very meaningful experience to be a part of this kind of civic duty. And so I would encourage those folks that feel like they can serve to serve, because I do have criminal defendants that have been charged with a crime that are in custody that have a right to a jury trial, and we need to have those cases heard,
Speaker 1: 07:30 Been speaking with San Diego superior courts, presiding judge, judge, Lorna, Oxnard, judge, Oxnard. Thank you for being with us. Thank you very much.