How Is Coronavirus Affecting LA County Courts And Jails Today? – Part 1 Of 2

Los Angeles County contains both the largest court system (including 250 criminal courtrooms) and the largest jail system in the United States. Now, after an all-but-total shutdown of both systems for more than three months as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the local criminal justice system is finally coming back to life – or is it?

Part One of this two-part series of articles covers the recent history – from early March through mid June 2020 – of the shutdown’s effect on arrests, the jail system (including bail schedules), and the criminal court system, including those adjudicating juveniles

Part Two will cover these development from mid June through the first week of August; my personal experiences in dealing with the pandemic’s affect on criminal cases in LA County; and will discuss a recently announced major change affecting most of the county’s criminal courts.

Timeline of the COVID-19 Pandemic’s Effect on LA County Courts

March 2020

California Declares a State of Emergency

On March 4, 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency, followed nine days later on a national level by President Donald Trump.

LA County Issues a Shelter In Place Order

On March 16, 2020, LA County (as well as many other counties in the state) issued an order for all residents to “shelter in place”. This meant that everyone living within the county’s borders was immediately required to stay home unless performing essential errands (such as seeing doctors or buying groceries) or performing essential infrastructure or employment services (such as working as front-line health care providers or in law enforcement). The operation of California courts was considered to be an essential public service. See

Most Courtrooms and Courthouses in LA County Closed

On March 17, 2020, Kevin C. Brazile, the Presiding Judge for the entire Los Angeles County court system, issued a “General Order” to drastically limit court operations for the purpose of combatting the spread of the coronavirus. (He did this under powers granted to him by the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court only the day before, on March 16th.) Presiding Judge Brazile also issued this order to comply with suggestions from state and local public health officials.

As a result, for the next eleven weeks, eighty percent (80%) of the county’s six hundred (600) courtrooms in almost forty courthouses were shuttered (see below).

California Issues a Shelter In Place Order

Three days after LA County’s stay-at-home order was issued (March 19th), Governor Newsom issued a statewide shelter-in-place order, requiring anyone living in California to abstain from leaving their residences unless performing essential duties or errands, or providing essential services. However, the court system of each county (including Los Angeles) was allowed to remain open and functioning in accordance with any local COVID-19 orders.

California Supreme Court Recommends Closing Most Courtrooms

The next day, March 20th, California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye advised that all superior courts in the state should follow certain safety procedures to stem the growing spread of the pandemic. This included the reduction of all non-essential court staff and the closure of most courtroomsSee

California Supreme Court Orders 60-Day Continuances for All Jury Trials

On March 23, 2020, Chief Justice Sakauye strengthened her advisory by issuing an order requiring that all jury trials in the state be suspended for at least sixty (60) days. The sole exception would be any trial which that particular superior court judge deemed important enough to be held through the use of Zoom (or Zoom-like) technology.

In addition, Chief Justice Sakauye ordered that those trials which otherwise were required by California statutory law (specifically, California Penal Code section 1382) to be held within those two months would be extended beyond the sixtieth (60th) day. 


LA County Clerk’s Office Closes

Nevertheless, that same day (March 23rd), the LA County Clerk’s Office, which oversees all the court clerks countywide, closed for business.

LA County Enacts Temporary Zero-Bail Schedule

Three days later (March 26th), all criminal courts in the LA County Superior Court system enacted an emergency “zero-dollar” bail schedule where only individuals accused of violent felonies and certain other high-level felonies and misdemeanors (sex offenses, domestic violence cases, stalking charges, and DUIs) would actually be arrested.

In other words, those persons would be handcuffed; printed, photographed, and processed at the local police or sheriff’s department station; and transferred to one of the central jail facilities downtown. And those individuals who were eligible for bail would have to pay the amounts set forth in the county’s current bail schedule (see below).

All other persons who would otherwise have been arrested for lesser felonies or misdemeanors would simply receive a promise-to-appear summons for a court date at least three months (90 days) in the future. However, prosecutors could still file a motion with the court to require or even deny bail to that particular defendant ostensibly to protect the public.

Governor & Judicial Council Grants California Supreme Court Unlimited Power to Fight COVID-19

The next day, March 27, 2020, the governor suspended all statutes (including California Government Code section 68115) that explicitly or implicitly limited Chief Justice Sakauye’s powers to issue orders that would affect all state superior courts’ operations and responses to the pandemic. (Executive Order N-38-20.) In other words, Governor Newsom greatly expanded the California Supreme Court’s authority to make any decisions it believes are prudent and effective in combatting the spread of the virus.

Most Courtrooms in LA County Reopen

On June 10, 2020, most of the four hundred shuttered courtrooms reopened, but hearings did not resume until twelve days later (June 22nd). The Clerk’s Office itself reopened on June 15th. Exceptions included the following courthouses: Beverly Hills, Bellflower, Catalina, Central Civil West (DTLA), East LA, Santa Clarita, and Spring Street (DTLA).

The Judicial Council Rescinds its Zero-Bail Schedule But Allows Counties to Continue Theirs

That same day, June 10th, the Judicial Council voted to rescind its emergency zero bail schedule – to go into effect on June 20th – apparently as a result of individual counties adopting their own zero bail schedules, as well as in preparation for a gradual reopening of all court services. But California Supreme Court Justice and Judicial Council member Marsha Slough clarified that individual counties could continue using a temporary emergency no-bail schedule in the interest of public health.


California Supreme Court Orders that All Felony Defendants Be Arraigned within 48 Hours

Also that same day, Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauyer ordered that all state courts revert back to the forty-eight hour (48) statutory deadline for felony defendants to be arraigned. 


LA County Clerk’s Office Reopens

Five days later (June 15th), the County Clerk’s Office finally reopened to prepare for an anticipated re-opening of all courts, including criminal courts, scheduled for June 22nd.

The Judicial Council Allows Jailed Inmates to Be Transported to State Prisons

On June 19, 2020, the Judicial Council allowed convicted inmates in Los Angeles County (as well as the state’s fifty-seven other counties) who were prison-bound to be transferred to those penal institutions in order to reduce jail populations to combat COVID-19. Indeed, by that same day (June 19th), more than twenty thousand defendants had been released from the state’s county jails for this same reason.


Contact our experienced Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney for a free consultation today.