Santa Clara Co. Court Limits Access to Slow Spread of Covid

With Covid-19 infections careening upward and hospitals reaching capacity, the Santa Clara County Superior Court today issued an order that strictly limits physical access.

Effective immediately, the only ones allowed in local courthouses will be those who have no choice but to appear in person. That includes court employees, judicial officers, attorneys, witnesses, litigants, vendors, jurors and mediators.

“Although the federal Constitution generally precludes closure of substantive courtroom proceedings in criminal cases and California's Code of Civil Procedure Section 124 generally precludes closure of substantive courtroom proceedings in civil proceedings, the current Covid-19 crisis resulting in shelter-in-place orders clearly demonstrates an overriding interest supporting restricting courthouse entry and permitting access to only those persons who are required to appear in person in any Santa Clara County courthouse,” Presiding Judge Deborah A. Ryan wrote in Tuesday’s order. “Public health and safety would be prejudiced absent such a restriction, which is narrowly tailored to permit only those required to enter the county’s courthouses; there is no less restrictive means of achieving this overriding interest.”

Until further notice, courthouse access is limited to:

  • Persons appearing in person for a court hearing. This will generally include and be limited to parties, their attorneys, witnesses subpoenaed to testify, and jurors.
  • Persons appearing to submit a pleading in person for filing who may enter only to place the pleading in the drop box and must leave afterward.
  • Persons seeking assistance with the Self-Help Center/Restraining Order Help Center for: Pleadings related to the prevention of domestic violence, gun violence, civil harassment, elder or dependent abuse, workplace violence, school violence, and juvenile dependency restraining orders; pleadings requesting emergency child custody and visitation orders or child safety issues; pleadings requesting emergency guardianships; and pleadings related to evictions, restricted to emergencies.

The order makes no mention of media access, but notes that anyone else trying to gain entry must present “good cause.” Benjamin Rada, a spokesman for the court, said he will consult with higher-ups to get some clarification about access for journalists.

Court officials say they will keep processing e-filing documents.

People who need to submit a pleading in person will be allowed to enter only to use a drop box; they must leave right after.

Meanwhile, court hearings will remain accessible by phone. Click here to look up which numbers correspond to each department.

4 Comments

  1. I heard sometime back that, in addition to shutting down churches, singing, and freedom of association, the pandemic authorities had also shut down jury trials.

    Have there been in jury trials?

  2. I just received a jury notice from Santa Clara County for the first week of January.

    I hope they cancel, just so I don’t get called, but it seems like they are still doing something.

  3. Amazing that they have what is called “Court Call” a Zoom style way of doing courtroom cases with anyone (judges, attorneys, clients, etc.) remotely via the App and a computer (and probably a phone). I know this because my attorney who retired months ago to Idaho did not have to leave his home and fly in for a hearing in SCC. Why they cannot do more of this to decrease the backlog (my divorce case has been stalled at least 4 times this year due to Covid) is beyond me. Ask any attorney how hard it is for them to go out of town for a client to appear in the court where the charges originated and you’ll get why they like the future of this idea.