By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau Chief
SACRAMENTO – The Sacramento County Superior Court made official early Thursday evening what everyone from lawyers to judges knew was coming – a total courthouse lockdown through at least March 30, and possibly long after that.
The courts – all but shuttered since Wednesday anyway– were closed officially Thursday night. For all intents and purposes, they will be locked nearly as tight as the county jail until the end of the month.
Earlier this fast-moving week, the Superior Court said it was closing Carol Miller Justice Center, which serves traffic, small claims and unlawful detainer, the Civil Self Help Centers at the Hall of Justice and the Gordon D. Schaber Courthouse and the Children’s Waiting Room at the Gordon D. Schaber Courthouse.
The final closure decision came late Thursday came after Gov. Gavin Newsom locked the state itself down earlier in the day, and Sacramento County did the same, in attempts to control the coronavirus spread throughout the state.
The Health Officer of the County of Sacramento early Thursday issued a Public Health Order under the authority of California Health and Safety Code, directing all individuals living in the county to stay at their place of residence except for “essential activities.”
An order issued late Thursday by Superior Court Presiding Judge Russell L. Hom read in part: “(T)o provide maximum protection for the health and wellbeing of all people served by this court and court personnel, the Court…has declared (from) the period of March 20, 2020 to March 30, 2020…courthouses and courtrooms shall be closed for judicial business during the days. All criminal and civil matters not expressly excepted are suspended until further order of the Court.”
Dept. 47 would be available, noted the order, for “emergency services,” including civil harassment, domestic violence, gun violence, juvenile and family emergency temporary restraining orders, search warrants, emergency protective orders, bail setting, and emergency writs regarding COVID-19 measures and writs of habeas Corpus regarding medical quarantines.
Late Wednesday, because of the coronavirus threat – the Sacramento County Jail started releasing scores of inmates. And all Sacramento County law enforcement officers are authorized to cite and release defendants on most misdemeanor warrants, rather than jail them.
The orders are causing some “havoc” for defense counsel, who are attempting to contact their clients with this information, according to sources.
Inmates released are limited – less than 50 by the first count – but Hom ordered that the Sacramento County Sheriff s Department is “authorized to grant accelerated release of inmates. Releases can be no more than 30 (thirty) actual days early of an inmate’s sentence. This order includes misdemeanors and felonies….(this) shall remain in effect until May 31, 2020.”
Another order, in force until May 31, 2020, immediately authorizes “all law enforcement officers…to cite and release defendants on misdemeanor warrants pursuant to Penal Code Section 853.6. This order includes misdemeanor warrants indicating NO O/R and/or NO 853.6 release comments. This order does not include arrests for misdemeanor warrants pursuant to PC§ 853.6(a)(2 PC §853.6(a)(3) or PC § 853.6(i).”
A statement released by the Sacramento Superior Court states:
“The Coronavirus (COVID-19) was declared a world pandemic and the federal government has declared a national state of emergency…Due to the increasing risks presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and the necessity for additional and significant measures to protect the health and safety of our community, including court personnel, court operations shall be reduced to critical proceedings only as set forth in the General Order of the Presiding Judge, dated March 17, 2020.
“The court shall continue to handle critical proceedings occurring in criminal, general civil, family, probate, juvenile delinquency and dependency and other identified areas. Judicial officers and minimum court staff required to perform critical functions shall continue to work. All other cases, including any other scheduled hearings and matters are continued to dates to be determined.
“Our decision to cease court operations except those deemed critical has not been made lightly. We have made this decision with due consideration to the increasing measures necessary to protect the health and safety of our community and court personnel, as well as the importance for all courts to ensure access to justice, protect due process, and provide a forum for the orderly resolution of disputes under law.
“We remain committed to serving the people of Sacramento County and through the uninterrupted handling of critical proceedings, the court will continue to serve the most immediate needs of the most vulnerable in our community including the elderly, children, victims of domestic violence, those whose life and liberty are at stake. We look forward to restoring our Court to full operational status as soon as possible.”
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