COVID-19 Court Delays Create Urgency for Backed-Up North State Judges

By Dylan Ferguson

FRESNO/SACRAMENTO – It’s no secret in superior courts around the north part of the state that COVID-19 months-long delays created massive backlogs in the courts—the wheels of justice can move slowly anyway, but for months the wheels ground to a halt.

This created a sense of urgency in the courts. Any delays are frowned upon by judges.

Take recently in Sacramento County Superior Court when Dept. 62, Judge Michael A. Savage gaveled 19 different continuances as he struggled to remain on schedule. It is unclear if he granted this many continuances as a result of this or if each case truly needed to be rescheduled.

There was evidence of both. Defendant Joshua Jacobs was in the hospital on the day he was supposed to appear in court. As a result, Judge Savage ruled a continuance until mid-November.

However, when a prosecutor asked for an off-the-record discussion, Judge Savage declined. He stated that “night court is coming in 15 minutes” and that they were already behind schedule.

The same theme of tardiness prevailed once Court Commissioner Ken Brody began night court. When defendant Tristen Upland’s newly-appointed public defender asked to get Upland’s contact information, Judge Brody interjected and said that “there are 30 people in the waiting room (on Zoom)—this cannot happen in the future.”

FRESNO – Monday in Dept. 13, Judge Samuel Dalesandro encountered a similar day.

Judge Dalesandro agreed to seven continuances in the afternoon. At least two defendants did not appear in court, and he issued bench warrants of $11,000 and $11,300 to each of these defendants. Each defendant failed to provide sufficient evidence to justify their absences.

Defendant Allen Oswalt failed to appear even after speaking to Assistant Public Defender Breann Sheppard, who advised him of his court date. Judge Dalesandro ruled a bench warrant for $11,300 because “it is the defendant’s responsibility to appear for his cases.”

Another defendant’s reasoning was that he had a family emergency the morning of his scheduled appearance. After checking with the court’s clerk and finding out that the defendant did not disclose any more information than this, Judge Dalesandro stated that he could not find “good cause to not appear,” and issued an $11,000 bench warrant.

Judge Dalesandro displayed more patience with defendant Marisol Ortiz. After asking Ortiz to repeat her answers three different times, Judge Dalesandro stated, “I am not trying to be difficult ma’am” but if “I cannot clearly hear what you are saying through my headset” then the recording for the record will also not be able to hear your responses.”

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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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