Coronavirus versus the Goddess of Justice

March 31, 2020


How is the battle between the coronavirus and California’s courts going? So far, the virus is winning; but there is hope for a counterattack by the Goddess of Justice in June or July.

If we are to survive as Americans, we must not only vanquish the coronavirus, but must do so while holding elections, have courts do justice, maintaining farms and groceries to feed us, and empowering hospitals able to treat the sick. And each of us must take personal responsibility to avoid spreading the virus while supporting those institutions that make us Americans.

Like all with any sense of responsibility dear reader, everything in your life has changed. You wear gloves to buy groceries and gas; and wash hands and surfaces in your car, at home, or at work more times each day than you ever imagined.

Many of you are working from home, or your workplace has changed to prevent unnecessary personal contact, or you’ve been laid off until the epidemic sweeping the country dies out.

Frankly, even experienced nurses and doctors don’t exactly know what to do and are afraid. So, it should come as no surprise that judges and lawyers had no idea what local courts could safely do to continue dispensing justice after a public defender, who had appeared in the close confines of a busy San Luis Obispo courtroom, tested positive for the virus on March 13.

A notice from the court emailed late March 13 to some of the lawyers demonstrated the court’s understandable uncertainty about what to do. It simply said that “most or all” of the hearings set in the Family Law departments on Monday, March 16, would be continued. Not knowing if my client’s case would fall into the most or the all category, I naturally appeared that Monday, evidence in gloved hand, with antiseptic wipes, and a face mask ready to present my client’s case.

There are Constitutional mandates that courts, like law enforcement and election clerks, must fulfill.

The Sixth Amendment’s right to a speedy trial by a jury, and to “confront witnesses” for defendants in criminal cases, and the Seventh Amendment’s right to a jury trial in civil cases are examples. Just as are legal priorities, like protecting and supporting children that courts must enforce. Long delays in providing justice amount themselves to injustice.

And judges, of every stripe, want to continue holding court, taking evidence and doing justice; but you will understand how the virulent spread of the COVID-19 through touching the court’s chairs, tables, witness stand, benches and jury boxes – let alone folks coughing on each other – threw the whole court system into a state of panic.

First, the local courts issued a notice continuing all civil and family law cases through April 6. And lawyers were “encouraged” to appear by phone – at $75 charged to their clients. By March 23, the California Judicial Council declared that because of the emergency, courts would all but close for 60 days, authorizing county courts to explore electronic “remote” means of holding hearings and trials.

Subsequently, local judges sent out notices that hearings starting March 16 through mid-April were all continued to dates starting April 20, and that any hearings requiring significant testimony would end up going over into June 2020.

Remote technologies may substitute for some social purposes but are not capable of replacing centuries of refining the process of taking testimony.

Supervisor Adam Hill scowling, photo by Daniel Blackburn

Over 60 percent of human communication is through physical expression and body language. Gestures, wrinkling of the brow, darting of the eyes, and pursing of the lips say as much or more about a witness’s truthfulness or mendacity as the words themselves will convey to a judge or jury.

Could the courts mimic actions by cities and other branches of the government to ease the closure? Yes. Cities have stopped charging for parking and for use of the bus system. The Courts could take over and waive the cost of appearing by “court-call” telephone services.

Harnessing the spirit of patience and cleanliness that has swept the county could permit a few hearings, with testimony, on priority civil matters, allowing one case at a time to be heard in any courtroom; and allowing time between hearings for cleaning of surfaces.

And, I suppose the courts could hold seminars – with folks six feet apart – to learn the uses of systems like Zoom, or other free services for at least being able to see the face of those giving testimony or arguing in shorter hearings.

In the meantime, with the Virginia Governor and even “denial Donald” now issuing executive orders or advisories for folks to shelter at home and practice physical distancing through mid-June, expect the process of justice for most people to be effectively paralyzed till July; and to be slowed to a crawl as the judges work through backlogs of cases through the end of 2020.

Yes, the Goddess of Justice will win by surviving this national emergency, if all of us pledge our time, talents and patience to supporting her.

Stew Jenkins is a San Luis Obispo public interest lawyer who handles estate planning, real estate law and municipal law. In 2012, he successfully obtained an injunction against the City of San Luis Obispo to stop it criminalizing poor people as a means of driving them out of town. Jenkins supports rights to equal justice, to organize unions, to project labor agreements, to health care and to equal dignity.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Henry VI comes to mind regarding the lawyers

Trump, 4/1/20, “I knew everything. I knew it could be horrible. I knew it could be maybe good. I don’t want to be a negative person. … You know I’m a cheerleader for the country.” This IS an admission of lying.

“We are going through the worst thing that the country has probably ever seen.” One LIE to over compensate and shift the attention from the other LIES.

REALLY, if you have an ounce of objective intellect, how can you support this chronic liar?

“How ’bout a shot of truth in that denial cocktail.”

Jennifer Salaiz

Doesn’t anybody remember the NJ Nurse a coupla years ago that had/thought to have had Ebola. She refused to quarantine. She successfully sued the govt because her rights were violated when the govt made her quarantine. There was hysteria about the loss of her “rights” and the media decried “fear mongering” by the govt. How soon we forget…..

Stew’s opinion piece is fair and well written; yes he is firmly in the “Orange Man Bad” camp, but that doesn’t mean he is unable to make keen observations on local court operations and write about them. One note of my own: Stew the court wouldn’t have to hold seminars on how to operate Zoom; just hire 15 year olds to set up the video conferences for us “adults”!

As for the president’s comments early on about Covid19 not being serious, he was wrong and after watching yesterday’s press conference it was clear to me that he knows he was wrong. But guess what? A lot of other politicians, some in the “Orange Man Bad” camp didn’t take this virus seriously either in the early days.

I still have a hard time getting my head around the numbers of potential fatalities that the modeling shows. It is not a sign of ignorance or stupidity that a politician, Democrat or Republican, might have had a hard time believing this virus was as dangerous as it is, back in January and February.

So, be kind to one another, be helpful when and where you can, follow the advice our medical professionals give us and please, let’s focus a little less on political personalities and a little more on our community.

Who needs court,lawyers or judges. At the rate thing are going all the criminals will be let off the hook and freed in the name of their safety. Glad the “Goddess of justice” gave their victims the same opportunity to walk away.

Donald the Denier? Are you kidding? As I recall he was criticized for banning travel and for being too active. Even Ilhan Omar and Geraldo Rivera praised Trump.If you read and exposed yourself to something other than CNN you might find out what is really going on this country. I’ve read several articles saying that Trump is far ahead of Obama in terms of response to a deadly disease and now the Democrats are on the verge of nominating his partner. The president has to say a lot of things and I am sure that a lot of his optimistic pronouncements were a desire to keep people from panicing. Stop being a propaganda boy for your liberal totalitarian hypocritcal keepers and get a dose of reality. Both parties have put us $23 trillion in debt already, devaluing the currency and no one except Leon Cooperman has challenged the abandonment of the uptick rule. The liberals and labor unions chased manufacturing to foreign countries and have treated both stimulus bills as if they were Santa Claus to their consitutencies. What will get us out of this mess is American resourcefulness, our work ethic, our Judaeo- Christian heritage and bringing manufacturing with jobs back to the USA. I think liberals hate every one of those things. In other words, I am not very fond of your article.

Cool it buddy, Trump did deny the impact of COVID-19 on many occasions. But, a positive is that he is now onboard with science. Glad he left the flat earth camp.

Thanks, I’ve managed to cool down a hundred degrees or so. Maybe when this is all over we can go over to BarellHouse. They got a world class IPA over there and maybe catch Monte Mills instead of a virus.

Playgeetar, love you brother! See you at the barrelhouse. Next IPA on me.

Sweet! Love you too!

Here’s a story from 2010 (Reuters) Showing what a good job Obama did with Swine flu (N1H1). But he’s a hero.

In my most aMAZINg assessment after reading this article, I would say that Obama killed 17,000 Americans, 1,800 of them children. Obama’s actions caused 57 million to become infected. These are facts.

Relax… Of course, I know that the above assertions are not true. Just like we know that someone else’s biased assertions are not true.

Trump’s failed corona virus response has caused: ballooning federal deficit; stock market crash; massive unemployment in process; incredible GDP decline in process; huge medical loss of life & respiratory injury in process; rampant gain in socialism via helicopter money & gov’t healthcare expansion. Viewed from the Right or Middle or Left, Trump administration’s lack of a timely response is a disaster. It ain’t ideology. It’s competence.

I can give dates & sources for my facts & projections. Have provided them in my previous posts. We need to prepare our families for a s**t storm.

Deflecting by talking about Obama

shelworth, so if one thinks and knows that Trump dropped the ball, then that makes one a pro-Obama? Not as simple as that. One can be pro-republican and not pro-Trump. I know, that’s hard to hear junior.

Trump calling Coronavirus “new hoax”; saying “it will disappear”; projecting “could be at just 1 or 2 people over the next short period”, are denials.

Sources: 2/26/20 White House (WH) news conference – TRUMP “We’re going to be pretty soon at only 5 people & we could be at just 1 or 2 people over the next short period of time.” 2/27/20, WH, TRUMP – “It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.” 2/28/20, South Carolina campaign rally, TRUMP – “And this is their new hoax.”

Your points: “Both parties have put us $23 trillion in debt”, “treated both stimulus bills as if they were Santa Claus to their constituencies.” Agree completely.

“Liberals and labor unions chased manufacturing to foreign countries”. I would say excessive eco regs, inflexible US work regs, & toleration of intellectual property thievery.

Trump did not call it a hoax. That is a myth. If you read the context of his remarks you would know that.