Sacramento Judge Calls Zoom Court Hearings ‘Brave New World’

Previous Session

By Ryan Kaika
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau

SACRAMENTO – The recent State Judicial Council emergency order lengthening timelines for most court hearings appeared to be the shadowy, but dominating issue this week in Sacramento Superior Court Judge Lawrence Brown’s virtual courtroom.

The emergency orders seem to have brought new challenges for public defenders and private defense counsel, as well as district attorneys. And judges.

And the biggest issue for all—combating the harsh realities of the COVID-19 pandemic—seemed to be dealt with more thoroughly than it had been in prior video conferencing court proceedings that began last week.

Almost every individual on screen (and on-site in Jail Court 60) wore face coverings, minus the judge himself and one public defender.

But, the dangerous trend of defendants being placed in the “cage” without a face covering also continued. The “cage” was sanitized before and after each hearing, a quick improvement from THE VANGUARD’S report last Friday detailing “spotty sanitation efforts.”

In one hearing during the April afternoon, a public defender—the name was not visible on the Zoom screen and records are also not available to the news media—requested release of his client due to the “unconstitutional” nature of recent court orders.

“The governor issued an emergency order essentially suspending Government Code 68115,” the public defender began, noting that Government Code section 68115 mentions “epidemic, natural disaster, or other substantial risk to the health and welfare of court personnel or the public,” among a list of other extreme scenarios, that permit the court’s wide-ranging powers to grant extensions for certain matters.

“We believe that to be an invalid use of the governor’s authority and a violation of separation of powers. The judicial council subsequently enacted a 30-day rule under 859b, that similarly is unconstitutional… therefore, putting this (case) beyond the 15th day after entry of plea is not justified and we’re asking that the case be dismissed,” defense counsel noted.

But the deputy district attorney shot back: “It’s the People’s position that both orders from the presiding judge here in Sacramento County and by the chief justice are legal and therefore constitute good cause.”

The case was not dismissed, and the stream cut out shortly after.

Just before the feed cut out, the judge asked a defendant if he was OK with his hearing being publicly streamed on YouTube—a question that he asked each defendant throughout the day. The defendant, pausing to think, debated the question internally for nearly 10 seconds before agreeing and then apologizing for the delay in his answer.

Judge Lawrence Brown smirked, and replied, “It’s all good. It’s a Brave New World,” an interesting and almost certainly intentional nod to the dystopian novel written by Aldous Huxley titled Brave New World.

Although the judge may have been mixing up classic dystopian literature.

It was 1984 by George Orwell that warned of “Big Brother” (the totalitarian government) invading the privacy of its citizens through in-home television screens or, in today’s world, perhaps exemplified by Zoom video streaming.

Brave New World, often confused with Orwell’s book, tells the tale of a civilization that has become paralyzed at the hands of a totalitarian and classist government, becoming complacent because of the surplus in readily available luxuries that make it easier for the citizens to forget their harsh reality.

One might argue that, while many of luxuries have been forcibly removed because of the pandemic—from traveling the world to watching sports to simply socializing in public, it does not mean that American citizens have become complacent to what the government is and has been doing.

Even as it is being broadcast on screens “everywhere.”

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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