Santa Clara County restricts court access again due to omicron impact on staff

The Santa Clara County Superior Court announced Wednesday that it is closing public counters and restricting courthouse entry through the end of the month because of staffing absences driven by the rapidly spreading omicron variant of COVID-19.

The decision to decrease the public’s access to South Bay court facilities is effective through Jan. 31, by which point officials plan to reevaluate whether to rescind or modify the restrictions. Part of that deliberation is presumably tied to whether the current omicron-fueled winter surge of COVID-19 infections will have peaked and begun to subside.

This marks at least the third large-scale order in Santa Clara County to restrict court access. Courthouses across the state were largely shuttered in the first few months of the pandemic and began widely installing teleconference and videoconference lines to maintain some level of court access. Continued fidelity to those systems, though, has varied from county to county as subsequent COVID-19 waves crested and fell.

The new order issued Wednesday by Presiding Judge Theodore Zayner echoes past restriction orders, limiting courthouse access to people directly involved in a court hearing; those submitting an in-person pleading; family-court petitioners seeking protective orders regarding domestic violence, gun violence, civil harassment, elder abuse, workplace and school violence, and juvenile dependency; and those seeking emergency orders for eviction and child-safety matters.

One distinction that the court is noting this time around is that virus-protection and distancing measures in the courthouses themselves are not at issue, emphasizing that staff availability is spurring the diminished access.

“Our court is experiencing a significant number of employee absences, creating staffing shortages across all departments of the court,” Zayner said in a statement. “We are hopeful that these circumstances are transitory and will frequently reexamine conditions as we continue to serve the public through the pandemic and the current omicron variant surge.”

A court news release also stated that the judiciary “will postpone and reschedule court dates, as necessary, to accommodate those who are ill due to COVID-19.”

Those who stand to be centrally affected by the court restrictions include people who need to go to the clerk’s office to research and obtain copies of court files required for a variety of tasks including job applications and legal defense, people who attend court to support family members through the criminal-justice process, and advocates who provide support for indigent defendants and their families.

Other Bay Area counties have implemented varying levels of closures and court restriction under the cloud of omicron, which scientists have estimated is as much as three times more infectious than the delta variant but has produced less severe illness.

In San Mateo County, court officials have shifted many non-criminal hearings from in-person to Zoom, and have consolidated preliminary hearings to court facilities in Redwood City, meaning people who had hearings set for South San Francisco will have to relocate. That arrangement lasts at least through Friday.

Both San Mateo and Contra Costa counties have obtained emergency authorization from the state’s Judicial Council — which governs Superior …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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