By Isabelle Brady
MODESTO, CA – Late this past week, Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Dawna Reeves presided over a hearing to confirm a date for a preliminary hearing in a case.
But during that hearing, she discovered that not all the attorneys in the case had been informed of the Stanislaus County Superior Court’s adoption of the Model Continuance Policy.
According to the text of the policy, the Model Continuance Policy is supposed to make it easier for the court to “provide justice for citizens without unnecessary delay and without undue waste of the time and other resources of the Court, the litigants, and other case participants.”
It notes that continuances are postponements of hearings or trials. A motion to continue means that something will happen at a later date than it was originally scheduled to happen.
The Model Continuance Policy advises that all continuance motions or requests should be made in writing and be filed no later than 48 hours prior to the court event that an attorney or party wants to continue.
The continuance motions must state the reasons why a court event should be continued and must be signed by “both the attorney and the party making the request,” according to the document.
At Thursday’s hearing, which was meant to confirm the date of March 9 for a preliminary hearing in the case, Deputy District Attorney Angela Russell said that the officer whom she needed to testify was on leave through the end of March.
She requested to vacate the current date and reset it, prompting Judge Reeves to ask if she’d heard about the new policy.
DDA Russell said she had not.
Judge Reeves also asked Assistant Public Defender Parra Moreno if she had received a copy of the policy. She said she had received one by email.
“I was pretty sure that it was distributed,” Judge Reeves said. “I was told that it was distributed, but people are acting like they’ve not heard of it.”
Judge Reeves proceeded to explain to DDA Russell, “We’re supposed to have written motions from now on. I know it’s gonna be difficult for the People because you all get notified last minute sometimes by your officers, but it gives both sides an opportunity to know what’s coming.
“We’re trying our best to keep repeated court dates to a minimum,” Judge Reeves said, likely in an effort to deal with the severe case backlog that COVID has created.
About half as many cases were resolved in California from March to August of 2020 compared with the same period in 2019. That was 1.4 million cases fewer. This has generated a backlog that in San Francisco has been called a “humanitarian crisis.”
DDA Russell said that she hadn’t had an opportunity to contact the officer to “see if there might be availability” before the date they’d originally set the preliminary hearing.
“That’s why a written motion is necessary,” Judge Reeves said. “You need to follow up and put all that in a motion and file it ahead of time so that I can know exactly what you’re asking, compare it with whether or not there’s been a time waiver, how much time is left and make a decision.
“Also, the defendant has an opportunity to agree or disagree and the court’s gonna make a ruling based on all the information,” the judge added, noting, “Your motion is also supposed to say what efforts you’ve made to overcome the deficit…you’re gonna have to start trying to get these cases together to get them to prelim because the People have their foot on the gas.
“You file a case, you’re supposed to be ready, so the defendant doesn’t have to sit in custody and wait for your officer to come off of FMLA…or take your foot off the gas and file it when you’re ready,” Judge Reeves said.
Judge Reeves confirmed the preliminary hearing. She advised DDA Russell to file “whatever motion you feel is appropriate with all of the information you can gather. Put it on by CCR when you have it ready.”
Adding, after the lecture, “I’ll put it on calendar.”