Courtroom Closure Causes Confusion for Accused, Lawyers, Judge

By Sam Alcaraz

VENTURA, CA – Deputy Public Defender Donna Forry filed a motion Friday here in Ventura County Superior Court to appear on behalf of her client, facing misdemeanor charges, who was not in the courtroom.

But COVID-19 reared its ugly head again, causing courtroom confusion.

Deputy District Attorney Craig Gardner made no objections to this request, but Judge Derek Malan noted that on Jan. 21, Judge Romero had specifically ordered the accused to appear Friday.

PD Forry stated, “Our lawyers have been told that the courthouse is closed to misdemeanor clients. And although there are some people getting in, I’m not sure everybody gets in.”

Judge Malan then said, “I don’t doubt that the clients are receiving erroneous information…I have never heard of, in the context of the last two weeks, a criminal defendant at the front, being told that they’re not allowed to come in,” to which PD Forry replied, “That’s absolutely been happening.”

PD Forry continued, “No one’s sending things out for hearings, so why would…the client come to court today, when the 1528.5 is not gonna be heard, and the jury trial would not be sent out? It’s a useless appearance for our clients.

“It’s not gonna result in anything, other than them having to take the day off work, and pay for gas to come to the courthouse. It’s just a useless exercise for them, that’s actually costly, when nothing’s gonna happen,” the public defender said.

Judge Malan reiterated the fact that Judge Romero specifically took the time to write that the accused needs to be present in court on Feb. 4.

PD Forry then said, “The problem is that when that order was made by Judge Romero…he fully believed that cases would be heard today, because at that point we were supposed to be opening up on Feb. 1. So, that would have made sense…but that’s not what’s happening.”

Judge Malan maintained that if a judge orders someone to be present, they must do so, regardless of someone else telling them they don’t have to.

PD Forry then stated, “This court closure has been a terrible mess for our clients. And for our office. We have been the ones that have had to bear the lion’s share of legwork, trying to let our clients know what’s going on. As you can see…cases that have been put over…then all of a sudden the cases appear on calendar, our lawyers names have dropped off , they don’t know that the case is on calendar, they can’t give instruction, they’re working from home, they don’t even know they need to be here.

“Over these last few weeks I’ve been told…many times by Judge Romero, ‘We’re all in this together, you all need to help, to work to keep this courthouse buzzing along during this closure.’ And that’s all well and good, but then when one of clients doesn’t show up through all of this confusion, I’m fully expecting that this court is going to be issuing a warrant right now, and that’s just not fair, it’s not right.

“If we’re all in this together and we can all agree that things have been messed up and confused, then it should apply across the board. It shouldn’t just apply to when it works for the court, or when it works for the DA’s office. It should apply to our clients, who, again, struggle most of the time to get to where they need to go. So, I’m asking that the court allow me to appear 977, this case is not going out today,” PD Forry said.

After further dispute on the matter between Judge Malan and PD Forry, Judge Malan finally granted a continuance, noting, “Unless the courthouse is physically closed, (the accused) is ordered to be personally present Feb. 9, 2022, 1:30 p.m., this courtroom, Courtroom 14.”

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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