Starting Wednesday, all civil and criminal jury trials in Riverside County will be suspended — unless they’re already underway — and public access to courts countywide will be restricted as a new set of precautions is instituted to reduce coronavirus exposure risks, according to court administrators.
Presiding Judge John Monterosso signed Order No. 2209-9 in response to potential spread of the Omicron variant, citing “a pronounced spike” in COVID-19 cases in various places because of the new strain.
“In light of the ease of transmission of the variant, conducting jury trials would unduly endanger court personnel, litigants, attorneys, jurors and the public, as well as threaten the continuous performance of court functions and operations,” Monterosso said in the order.
No data was provided by the Superior Court Executive Office regarding the number of infections that have surfaced among staff in the last two months, since Omicron was identified.
The suspension of jury trials will not impact those already in progress, and the edict does not affect other proceedings on the docket, according to the court.
Under the order, access to all courtrooms in the county will be contingent upon space and the basis of a person needing to be in a department. Defendants and plaintiffs, their attorneys, witnesses and “one support person statutorily permitted to accompany a person seeking a temporary restraining order” will be automatically authorized to enter.
However, other parties will only be permitted into a courtroom if they have prior approval, including members of the media, officials said.
The order is slated to remain in effect until Jan. 28, though it could be rescinded earlier, or extended, “to address changing circumstances,” according to the Superior Court Executive Office.
Courtroom live streaming will continue, allowing the public to listen to proceedings — when judges and courtroom staff remember to activate the service, which hasn’t been consistent since it was implemented in the summer of 2020.
The audio streaming portal is available at riverside.courts.ca.gov/OnlineServices/CourtroomLivestreaming/courtroom-livestreaming.php.
Monterosso’s directive does not replicate the sweeping one put in place by his predecessor, Judge John Vineyard, who ordered many courthouses closed for almost three months in 2020 when the coronavirus public health emergency was declared locally and statewide.
Courthouses were gradually re-opened going into the summer of 2020. However, four facilities remained closed for most of that year.