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FAMILY LAW ARTICLES

December 16, 2020
How COVID-19 Is Affecting Ventura County Courts

Hello, Carla Hartley here. I am going to be discussing today the effect of the recent edict requiring further restraints due to COVID on our population in California and how that is affecting our local court system in Ventura County and some of the courts around us.

Going to start with the bad news. The bad news is the US bankruptcy court has closed itself to all in-person services. They are still, see that’s the good news though, they’re still going to be taking people for remote services. So I think that is good. They have electronic filing as mandatory, a couple of other things like that, but nobody’s getting in the buildings for a while. I think that’s until early January they’ve got that closed. So we have a couple of counties up in Northern California in higher crime areas that the civil courts are still closed and are expected to remain closed through 2021. This is all available in a public website. You can feel free to look it up.

Now for Ventura what’s happening in my county? In my county, I think we are blessed with an extraordinarily capable management at the courthouse that is both the Judiciary and the administration. What we have seen over the past several months is pretty much ways of looking forward
and figuring out how to keep us open and I know they’ve been really making efforts to keep us open. It has been very inconvenient at times when I want to have extra people into the courthouse or when I want to you know, take a client up with me instead I have to have them wait in their car until I can either go get them or send them a text to come out but the long and short of it is we’re still open and I think complying with these policies has had the end result that we are still open.

We received a notice, not a notice. We received an order yesterday that was issued by the presiding judge of the family court and that order indicated that all mandatory settlement conferences are going to be continued to some future date past January 26th. So all MSC’s that are on calendar between now and January 26 are going to be continued by the court. We’ll get notice as to when that happens. We’ve already notified our clients of that, those who it would be affecting. So my thought is that this is aimed at further reducing traffic. Mandatory settlement conferences, they don’t take I don’t think they don’t take a lot of the judges time. I think the mandatory settlement conferences are primarily when Council gets together and says, “How are we going to settle this case? Are we going to settle this case or aren’t we?” If we’re not then you go in front of the judge and you you set it for trial. You tell the judge you’re ready. You tell the judge what’s at issue and you get your trial date.
So by stopping the reservation of time for mandatory settlement conferences, what the Judiciary inventor has done is to free up time that would be taken and it’s to also reduce the number of people the courthouse because the attorneys that are showing up at the MSC to try to have a
settlement conference can do that elsewhere.

We can have voluntary settlement conferences in our, not necessarily in our offices but we can do it by Zoom. We can do it by GoToMeeting. We can try to exchange letters and engage in settlement negotiations without being in the courthouse. Now this does mean we can’t get trial dates, but again trial dates are pretty pretty far out now is it is. I think I was in last week and I got a trial date the end of March. So when we come back in January and we start hopefully having mandatory settlement conferences again, God only knows how far out the trial dates are going to be set. In the meantime, the law in motion calendar, which is your request for order, your everyday small hearings that kind of shape your case and weed out what you don’t have to take to trial and resolve things along the way, that law in motion calendar can expand into the mandatory settlement conference spaces.

So that means the court can serve more people. It does mean that the trial dates are going to be more difficult, so I would encourage people to talk to their attorneys, say “Look you need to settle this. You need to be working in settlement negotiations. Let’s get a settlement letter out. Let’s get an offer out.” Try to resolve your cases because you don’t know when you’re getting to trial. We don’t know what’s happening to the housing market, to the bond market, to the stock market. We don’t know what’s going to happen with future employment so for some people that’s going be a reason to embrace the delay.

For other people it’s going to be a reason to try to rush things. Losing your MSC’s, losing your trial date, makes it kind of hard to rush things, but the RFO calendar will give you a good idea of what is going to be going on in your case. That’s that’s always your good initial indication of how your case is going to go. I think that we have also seen the court starting to use Zoom more and more. Department 34 and Department J1 are definitely using Zoom. Those have been historically two of the more high volume courtrooms for traffic and by using Zoom, especially Department 34, which is your child support and domestic violence court room, you generally have a lot more people coming through and Zoom makes it possible to just not have to have them in there. The people can still get their pleadings in. They can still get their orders, but they don’t have to have so many people.

We used to see like 50 people on the docket. 50 cases on the docket for Department 34 for one day and now they can still service that many cases but they’re doing it via Zoom. This has so reduced the physical human traffic going through that Courthouse that it’s just a benefit. So be encouraged, be encouraged. If you’re in Ventura County, you’re in good hands and obey the rules. The courthouse wants to stay open. Yes,
some of this is staggeringly inconvenient, but you are not the only person who is applying to our Courts for assistance. They serve our community. We serve the community. We are all trying to to get through this together. To get through this as quickly as possible as I hope gracefully as possible. So don’t don’t be picking fights when they’re telling you you can’t go to the courthouse. Call and make an appointment. If you want to file paperwork, try to figure out how to file it electronically. If you are self-represented and stay the course, just stay the course. That’s all I have for today. I hope this has been helpful. Bye.

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