Keeping Courthouses Clear of COVID-19

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LOS ANGELES — Seeking to keep Los Angeles County courthouses clear of COVID-19, the Board of Supervisors called for stronger health and safety measures to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus. 

When the courts reopened on July 6th after weeks of closure prompted by COVID-19, the Presiding Judge of the Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles, began implementing a range of health and safety measures recommended by the LA County Public Defender and endorsed by the LA County Board of Supervisors. Additional measures may be necessary, however, given the recent surge in infections.

In their motion, Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Kuehl noted that the LA County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) notified the Public Defender that many of its attorneys may have been exposed to COVID-19 by clients who tested positive for COVID-19 while in jail. In addition, many clients come to Court from jail without being tested beforehand. 

On June 26th, the Department of Public Health recommended that LASD stop transporting clients with pending test results. However, given recent changes around testing, opportunities to -identify positive asymptomatic in-custody clients prior to transportation to Court has declined. Also complicating matters is inconsistent compliance with the Presiding Judge’s July 6th order requiring social distancing and the wearing of masks in courthouses.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and Kuehl’s motion instructed the County CEO, in collaboration with the Public Defender, Sheriff, and the Directors of DPH, the Correctional Health Services (CHS) within the Department of Health Services (DHS), the Internal Services Department (ISD), and the Alternate Public Defender (APD), to report back to the Board in 14 days with recommendations on:

A pre-screening process, including temperature checks and symptom and exposure questions, for entering courthouses;

Hourly patrols to ensure compliance with masking and social distancing protocols;

Public health inspections of lockup spaces in every courthouse

Whether and when incarcerated individuals should be tested before a court appearance;

The feasibility of rapid testing for incarcerated individuals;

The feasibility of testing jurors;

Expanding video conferencing technology to allow incarcerated individuals access to attorneys, clinicians, and the courts; and

Recommending protocols for responding when there is a known positive COVID-19 test from any individual who has been in a courthouse, including how to issue notifications and whether to impose a quarantine.

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