By Elena Rawlinson
SAN FRANCISCO, CA –– Judge Loretta Giorgi’s packed calendar on Monday exemplified the overwhelming backlog of cases that COVID-19 has helped to create.
California Penal Code section 1382 requires that criminal trials for felony charges begin within around 60 days after a defendant’s arraignment. However, Judge Giorgi was forced to extend this period for more than 20 defendants this week in light of the resource scarcity imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine.
Defendant Erbert Mayek was set for a hearing Monday on a charge of felony arson. Mayek’s experience in the criminal legal system thus far illustrates the constraints and difficulties imposed by COVID.
Mayek was represented by Assistant Public Defender Martina Avalos, and Judge Giorgi noted that Avalos had submitted an order to dismiss, to which the prosecution had submitted written opposition.
Giorgi prompted Avalos, “Is there anything you wish to add Ms. Avalos?”
Avalos advocated that her client had faced prejudice on several counts.
First, Avalos noted that Mayek’s current hearing was taking place in Dept. 22, rather than Dept. 13 where his initial court appearances had been heard.
“We believe that the delay and the harm that Mr. Mayek has been experiencing has only been exacerbated by the fact that when we filed this motion to court…they stated that it had to be heard in Dept. 22, which we did not believe was the correct place for this motion to be heard given the fact that it has already been sent out for trial in front of Judge Murphy,” the defense counsel said.
Secondly, Avalos advocated that her client’s trial had been delayed due to difficulty procuring a Mayan interpreter for the defendant.
Avalos explained that the original trial—which was later declared a mistrial—had been scheduled for one to three days a week because of the schedule of the one Mayan interpreter the court had booked.
“There is only a single interpreter for this case that was obtained, no efforts were made as far as I can tell or as far as the record is concerned to secure another interpreter who has a more flexible/accommodating schedule; currently we are dealing with a schedule where we were only going to be in session one day a week,” said the defense lawyer.
“We believe that there are other interpreters out there. I suggested interpreters that I knew from Monterey that could operate in a relay fashion and while that might be somewhat difficult it at least would get things going sooner… I know the court said they didn’t want to do relay interpreting,” Avalos added.
Judge Giorgi interjected—“I didn’t say anything.”
Avalos continued, “Well that’s part of the reason I think this was better suited to be heard by Judge Murphy who made a lot of these judgment calls.”
The prosecution replied by reminding the judge that the case had been sent to trial but was declared a mistrial after a juror tested positive for COVID-19, and maintained that efforts had been made to hire a Mayan interpreter for the trial.
Judge Giorgi denied the motion to dismiss. The trial will take place on Aug. 12.