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February 19, 2021
COVID-19 Procedure Update In the Ventura County Courthouse

Hello, Carla Hartley here. It is mid-February 2021, and I’m going to be speaking today about the updates for covid procedures in the Ventura County Courthouse. Alrighty, we are precisely mid-February today and we have heard a lot of stuff from the Governor from all sorts of other places about lifting restrictions and changing the way things are being done. So the question that’s out there is how is this affecting those of us who have to go to the court? Has our Ventura County court changed anything?

I can say that right now it appears that Santa Barbara’s courthouse has not changed what it’s been doing for the past several months. Nor does it appear that Los Angeles County has changed what they’ve been doing for the past several months. So let’s proceed with what is going on in Ventura County. I want to be really clear here. I am only discussing the family law procedures in the Family Law Courtrooms in Ventura County, California.

So let’s start off with access to the courthouse. You must have a reason to go to the courthouse. You must have your name on a list that’s going to permit you into the courthouse. If you’re going there for a family law case, then you’re either going as a witness or as a party or as an attorney. In any case, you must have your name on a list in order to get into the courthouse. There are two points of access for this. They’ve taken the tents down that were in front when we had so many people going through. If you’re coming in from the entrance off of the courthouse facing the 126, then you’re going to go to the traffic window. And if you’re going to come in from the part of the courthouse facing the Hall of Records the telephone, then you’re going to want to go into the cafeteria and get checked in that way.

Once you’ve checked in you can enter the courthouse. Now, what is going on once you’re in the courthouse? There are only a couple of reasons to be in the courthouse. One of them is if you have an appointment for filing. We are about half a mile from the courthouse and it is easier for us and also more pleasant for us to make an appointment on a daily basis and take our stuff over and get it filed ourselves. So that makes us one of the few that can do that. Not the few that can make an appointment but one of the few that have reasons to be in there on a regular daily basis. That’s filing at the windows by appointment. You can file by Dropbox. There is a dropbox out in front so that you can drop your documents in there. That’s pretty reliable we’ve done that. And also if you have an e-filing account, you can e-file many of your documents. They are encouraging that as well.

That covers the two most common things. Now, what are the limitations on getting in? The law in motion calendar which in family law is requests for orders is entirely by Zoom at this time. That is going to probably continue for the foreseeable future at least until I think they’re saying June. If you have anything on the RFO calendar you are going to be appearing via zoom and you’re going to have to check in with the court. They have posted on the Ventura County Superior Courts website some of the things that you need to know and the orders that you need to know for getting in. I think all of that is publicly available. If you need to know more about it, I would say call self-help and see if they can help you with something. Don’t go to self-help without an appointment.

Zoom appearances for law in motion. This means that for the most part, the paperwork which we’ve always prided ourselves on is more important than ever. The reason for that is you can’t just get to court and produce extra documents because you’re frankly sitting in your office and the old argument that we are supposed to have everybody able to review it and make arguments for and against it and have noticed before it’s provided is even more enforceable when we’re dealing with this Zoom thing. You can’t just show up with documents or a hastily devised argument. You’re supposed to actually follow the code of civil procedure and do things as you’re supposed to on the law and motion calendar.

The other thing that is happening by remote is mandatory settlement conferences. Your mandatory settlement conference must as a matter of court rule, be heard before the court will give you a trial date. Your mandatory settlement conference is mandatory and you must be present at that in Ventura County. We did not have these for many months. I think some of the other counties are still not having them. However, they have been reinstated effective January 25th in Ventura County and the court is having them by Zoom. You cannot go to the courthouse for your MSC, but you can talk with the court, talk with opposing counsel and even have your clients present in the Zoom workroom.

Now, the court is using some breakout rooms on Zoom so that Council once they’ve checked in can go meet and confer and then come back into the courthouse and talk to the judge. There are some difficulties with that. I understand some people are coming back in from the breakout room and just talking which is interrupting other proceedings in which the judges are presiding. I know they’re working on that. But what you need to know for now mandatory settlement conferences are back on the calendar. They’re still mandatory and you must appear by Zoom at those conferences. All other court rules, especially our local court rules pertaining to the mandatory settlement conferences do still apply.

This is the last part of this little video of this is covid court update. We are still having in-person appearances in Ventura County. These are for ex-party hearings for the family law calendar. Your ex parties are your emergency hearings that are generally noticed by 10 a.m.the day before and then you have the appearance generally at 11:30. Sometimes at 1:30 in the Ventura County Family Law Courtrooms. These require someone to show up in person. And I think we’ve seen a couple of attorneys from out of the area who are not familiar with our court rules who have simply failed to show up for their own ex-parties. This has created problems in a great deal of expense for pretty much everybody. And I think it’s caused problems for their own clients as well.

I cannot emphasize how important it is to make sure that any attorney that you are bringing into Countywhatever County you’re bringing the attorney into must know the local rules as well as the California court rules. These can create problems especially as Zoom is making our world smaller and people are realizing they don’t have to drive quite so far. They still have to read the local rules and I would submit to you that if you are looking to hire an attorney in any local courthouse, make sure that they’re the attorney you’re hiring didn’t just say he knows the local rules make sure that they have appeared frequently in that courtroom, in that courthouse, and actually know what they’re doing when they’re there.

The last in-person thing that we have going on in the Family Law Courts is the trial or evidentiary hearing. These are in person for a variety of reasons. I think it’s because the court wants to take advantage of the fact that the courtrooms are mostly empty and we have room for people in there. I think everybody I know, everyone is still keeping their social distancing, the six feet. They’re keeping their masks on. Everybody’s using lots of hand sanitizer. So the courts here in Ventura are very vested in keeping everyone who is there safe, especially including their own staff, but also as well the public. The court has a duty to listen to evidence, to receive evidence, and to make rulings based on that evidence. A trial is sort of the pinnacle of that. It is a serious duty and I am so pleased that our judges have taken every aspect of this very seriously, but even though covid has given them a good excuse to step back and not have people in their courtrooms, I think it is impressive and it is indicative of their dedication to their service to our community to still have us coming into court for the trials. So they can hear us and look at our evidence and make valuations about our clients and our witnesses and see who is more credible and who is not.

I think it is a tremendously valuable function and I’m glad that our courts are still doing it. I hope they continue to do so. That is the only update or that is the extent of the update I have for today. If we have more covid updates here in the county, I will let you know probably in the next month to two months. I hope this has been helpful. Have a good day. Bye-bye.

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