Several legal groups sued the Los Angeles Superior Court Tuesday in an attempt to end the requirement that litigants appear in person for traffic and eviction cases, citing the coronavirus pandemic.
The suit was brought by attorneys at Public Counsel, the Inner City Law Center, the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Bet Tzedek and Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County.
The suit seeks a judge’s declaration that the court has violated statutes and the state constitution by failing to close traffic and eviction courts to in-person hearings during the coronavirus pandemic.
A representative of the court did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Those most affected by current court conditions are low-income and under-resourced Blacks and Latinos facing homelessness in unlawful detainer actions or people with traffic citations who, if they had the money, could avoid their court date by paying off the ticket, according to the lawsuit.
Attorneys in the courts have reported seeing crowded rooms and hallways, unventilated buildings, court staff not consistently wearing masks and settlement negotiations that require getting closer than six feet to another person, according to the plaintiffs.
The consequences for not appearing in court are severe, ranging from fines to driver’s license suspensions and evictions, the suit states.
More than 33 declarations are attached to the complaint. In one, Dr. Ranit Mishori, Georgetown University’s chief public health officer, says the courts are not presently equipped to implement the necessary protocols and practices to prevent or minimize the spread of COVID-19.
The court’s administration of in-person hearings is “reckless” and “needlessly endangers people’s lives,” according to Mishori.
While the courts are in the difficult position of balancing their integral role in the functioning of democracy with steep and undeniable health risks, closing the courts is the only safe and fair response to the crisis, according to the suit.