Businesses and locations across the country have closed their doors to the public thanks to COVID-19, and courts are no exception. In an effort to make court-going activities safer and slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, courts across the country have implemented new rules and restrictions for the services they offer.
If you're a San Diego County resident, you may be wondering what to expect from the San Diego Superior Court. Today, we're covering how the Court has reacted to COVID-19, and what you can expect from it going forward.
Is the San Diego Superior Court Open to the Public?
On March 17, 2020, the San Diego Superior Court closed for all non-emergency services. On May 26, 2020, the Court resumed business operations, but Presiding Judge Lorna Alksne stated that the courthouse would not reopen to the public "until this pandemic is over."
Currently, the Court aims to resume jury trials on October 13, 2020. Individuals who have business with the Court can access the business office from 8:30 am to 4:00 pm, Monday through Friday.
The Court is attempting to schedule hearings and other court appearances using video or teleconferencing tools to protect participants from COVID-19. If you have a virtual or telephone hearing scheduled, the Court will mail you information about what to expect from the process and how to participate in your hearing.
Individuals who wish to enter court facilities must:
- Have their temperature taken and be screened for symptoms of COVID-19 by law enforcement officers from the San Diego Sheriff's Department before entering;
- Remain six feet away from other customers and employees, using markers placed in the courthouse;
- Wear a face covering at all times while inside court facilities;
- Observe social distancing while waiting in line outside court facilities.
How the Court Is Handling Restraining Orders & Other Cases
Although access to the courthouse for legal purposes is limited at this time, the Court still provides certain services.
One of the more important services the Hall of Justice, East County, North County, and South County Regional Centers are providing is processing restraining order requests.
The Court is processing and holding civil temporary restraining order hearings for the following types of restraining orders:
- Elder abuse;
- Workplace violence;
- Private postsecondary school violence;
- Transitional housing misconduct;
- Gun violence.
Individuals can request a temporary restraining order (TRO) at the Civil Division in the Hall of Justice and North County Regional Centers, and at the Family Court in the East and South County Regional Centers.
To file a request for a TRO and have a judge hear the request on the same day, petitioners (the individuals filing the TRO request) must have the paperwork finished and filed by 3:00 pm.
After receiving a TRO from the judge, the petitioner is responsible for serving the respondent (the subject of the restraining order). The Sheriff's Department can serve the respondent, or the petitioner can ask a third party to complete the service.
A TRO can be a fantastic tool for individuals who need to stay safe while handling a domestic violence dispute or threats from a potentially violent individual. After filing for a TRO, the court will hold a hearing where the petitioner and respondent can present evidence for their cases. After the hearing, the judge will decide whether to issue a more permanent form of restraining order.
In addition to requesting a TRO, it's also possible to access the following court services in person:
- The Hall of Justice is handling small claims cases;
- The Hall of Justice is handling unlawful detention cases;
- The Hall of Justice and North County Regional Center are handling name and gender change cases;
- The Hall of Justice and North County Regional center are handling limited and unlimited civil cases, which include:
- Right to Possession first and third party claims;
- Ex parte papers for Department 60;
- Abatement warrants;
- Writs of elections;
- Other legal documents that need to be time-stamped.
Court Services Offered for Family Law Disputes
Individuals involved in a family law dispute other should be aware that it is still possible to request an emergency family ex parte order.
Ex parte orders are for disputes where one party wants to initiate a case and court action without the other party present. Individuals may wish to file ex parte emergency orders for a number of reasons, including:
- One party in a custody arrangement attempts to relocate with their child without the other parent's consent;
- One party refuses to comply with an existing child custody order;
- One party behaves in an unacceptable or dangerous manner towards a child.
To request an emergency ex parte order, individuals need to submit an ex parte application, order - family law form, and credit card payment with the Family Business Office at their county court.
Once the court clerk receives a receipt confirming the above papers have been processed, they will set a hearing date and time for the case. The respondent must then be provided with a notice of the emergency order.
Courts take emergency orders seriously. If your case does not require an emergency order, you should instead file your case normally and wait for the court to arrange a virtual hearing date.
The San Diego Superior Court's Family Law Facilitator's Office is also available to help individuals with their family law disputes at no cost. The Facilitator's Office can help individuals complete paperwork for domestic violence, civil harassment, and elder abuse restraining orders in-person.
Additionally, the Facilitator's Office is offering several remote services, including:
- Helping individuals review legal paperwork;
- Assisting individuals with filling out emergency ex parte orders for issues other than restraining orders;
- Answering questions about family law disputes and cases via email, phone, and Google questionnaire;
- Issuing information about virtual hearings for family law cases;
- Holding divorce and guardianship workshops via video conferencing tools.
At Family Law San Diego, we help Californians navigate complex family law cases. Our experienced family lawyers are here to help you find the best path forward in your case as the San Diego Superior Court works to handle COVID-19.
Our attorneys can help you understand how and where to file legal paperwork and take the necessary steps to pursue an ideal outcome in your family law case.
To schedule a consultation with our team and learn more about how we can help you, contact us online or via phone at (619) 577-4900.