Prosecutors and public defenders vented their anger over a decision by California’s judicial leaders to extend some legal deadlines and recommend that hearings be held remotely, reports the Los Angeles Times. The state’s Judicial Council, which makes policy and sets rules for the courts, voted unanimously to extend the deadlines for pre-trial criminal matters and recommended they be conducted remotely by telephone or video if possible, during the coronavirus crisis. Public defenders, who have been trying to get clients out of jail, were furious about the extension of deadlines. Prosecutors were upset that judicial leaders recommended remote hearings rather than ordering them.
Oscar Bobrow of the California Public Defenders Association called the situation in California’s jails a “time bomb.” He said the deadline extensions were forcing inmates who have not been convicted to live in close quarters in jails that are become a breeding ground for the coronavirus. In Solano County, where Bobrow is chief deputy public defender, defense lawyers have been going to court. Prosecutors have been participating remotely. Bobrow called on Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, head of the Judicial Council, to order sheriffs to release more inmates, including those with low-level crimes and those who are close to completing their sentences. Bobrow said he believed Cantil-Sakauye had the powers to do so under a sweeping order Gov. Gavin Newsom issued last week. The unprecedented order gave her temporary power to suspend laws. Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer, on the other hand, called on Cantil-Sakauye to order requiring preliminary hearings be held remotely. He suggested that public defenders were simply trying to get charges dismissed by refusing to waive their clients’ rights to appear. Prosecutors can refile charges only once after dismissal for most felonies and twice for the most serious felonies.