SAN JOSE — The Santa Clara County Superior Court will resume normal public access starting Monday, about three weeks after officials closed public counters and restricted who could enter South Bay courthouses because of staffing shortages driven by the omicron variant of COVID-19.
Presiding Judge Theodore Zayner said in a statement Friday that “with currently declining case rates county-wide, the court has also seen a reduction in employee absences allowing us once again to provide in-person courthouse access.”
On Jan. 12, Zayner ordered the closure of clerk’s offices and other public-facing court resources, and limited courtroom access to people directly involved court hearings, with a handful of exemptions for court matters that involved public and personal safety issues such as domestic-violence restraining orders. It was the third such access restriction instituted by Santa Clara County courts since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.
COVID-fueled courthouse restrictions have been controversial in the South Bay and throughout the region, with attorneys and open-access advocates asserting that they unduly impact low-income people and people of color, who are overrepresented in the courts and county jails, and harm due process because of trial delays and other case backlogs.
In San Mateo County, court officials have shifted all civil court hearings to Zoom, and have consolidated preliminary hearings to court facilities in Redwood City. Both San Mateo and Contra Costa counties have obtained emergency authorization 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. Officials have also obtained authorization to postpone jury trials set to start in January and to treat most of the month as a holiday when it comes to many court filing deadlines. The court has also revived a controversial emergency order to extend the allowable arraignment deadline for someone arrested and in jail custody from 48 hours to as many as seven days.
Many of the COVID-19 court orders have sunset dates that mean they will be revisited, and either continued or rescinded, in the next week. Regardless, court officials are pleading with people to avoid coming to court if they are ill, and have pledged to ensure they are not in legal trouble by staying home.
“Going forward, it is absolutely critical that anyone who is sick should not come to the court. The court will postpone and reschedule court dates, as necessary, to accommodate those who are ill due to COVID-19,” Zayner said. “Unrepresented individuals should reach out to the court directly, while those with attorneys should communicate with their counsel.”