The Santa Clara County Superior Court announced Wednesday that it is closing public counters and restricting courthouse entry through the end of the month because of staffing absences driven by the rapidly spreading omicron variant of COVID-19, joining other Bay Area courts that have also been limiting public access.
The decision to decrease the public’s access to South Bay court facilities is effective through Jan. 31, by which point officials plan to reevaluate whether to rescind or modify the restrictions.
This marks at least the third large-scale order in Santa Clara County to restrict court availability. Courthouses across the state were largely shuttered in the first few months of the pandemic and began widely installing teleconference and videoconference lines to maintain some level of court access.
Mercury News reports that the order echoes past restriction orders, limiting courthouse access to people directly involved in a court hearing; those submitting an in-person pleading; family-court petitioners seeking protective orders regarding domestic violence, gun violence, civil harassment, workplace and school violence, elder abuse, and juvenile dependency; and those seeking emergency orders for eviction and child-safety matters.
“Our court is experiencing a significant number of employee absences, creating staffing shortages across all departments of the court,” Presiding Judge Theodore Zayner said in a statement. “We are hopeful that these circumstances are transitory and will frequently reexamine conditions as we continue to serve the public through the pandemic and the current omicron variant surge.”
In San Mateo County, court officials have shifted many non-criminal hearings from in-person to Zoom, and have consolidated preliminary hearings to court facilities in Redwood City. Both San Mateo and Contra Costa counties have obtained emergency authorization from the state’s Judicial Council – which governs Superior Court operations in California – to postpone jury selection panels and trials that were set to start in January by as many as 30 days.
In Alameda County, the court has temporarily decreased telephone and in-person access to clerk’s offices to “allow the court to mitigate the ongoing surge in COVID cases brought about as a result of the rapid spread of the Omicron variant,” according to a court statement. The court will continue to monitor the situation and make additional changes as circumstances warrant.
The Alameda County court has also obtained authorization to postpone jury trials set to start in January and also to treat most of January as a holiday when it comes to many court filing deadlines. But it has also revived an emergency order, which was highly criticized as a due process violation when it was implemented in the first few months of the pandemic, to extend the allowable arraignment deadline for someone arrested and in jail custody from 48 hours to as many as seven days.