California's chief justice rolls back some COVID-19 emergency measures

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  • Chief justice says state is moving to "semblance of pre-COVID-19 California."
  • Rescinded orders related to remote hearings, trials

(Reuters) - California's chief justice on Thursday rescinded four emergency measures adopted at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic governing civil trial deadlines and the use of technology for remote hearings as the state transitions to a post-crisis mode.

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye's order to rescind some of the pandemic-related measures governing the nation's largest court system came as some other courts nationally begin rolling back mask and other policies aimed at combating the coronavirus amid a decline in COVID-19 infections.

Cantil-Sakauye cited the rollback announced last week by California's Democratic Governor, Gavin Newsom, of several executive orders governing the state's pandemic response and presented a plan to move from a crisis approach to "living with this virus."

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"These events mark an important and hopeful change as the residents and government of our state transition to a semblance of pre-COVID-19 California," Cantil-Sakauye said in a statement.

In orders issued in March 2020, Cantil-Sakauye had allowed courts to extend the time to hold a preliminary hearing in a criminal case from 10 days to 30 days and allowed courts to extend the time to bring civil cases to trial by up to 60 days.

Her orders also allowed courts to quickly adopt local rules to address the pandemic without first circulating proposals for 45 days of public comment and suspended any rules that prevented using technology for remote court proceedings and operations.

Cantil-Sakauye's order on Thursday does not, though, mean the end of remote hearings. The state's legislature in September passed a law that will allow courts to hold civil proceedings remotely until at least July 2023.

The order, which takes effect April 30, also does not affect measures enacted by the state's Judicial Council, the judiciary's policymaking body, which adopted a rule that allows criminal defendants to appear remotely for pretrial hearings.

While California's local courts in many cases still require masks, other court systems in Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, New Mexico and South Carolina in the last month said they would relax aspects of their statewide mask policies.

Several courts nationally that had paused holding trials due to the surge of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus have resumed doing so.

New York state's courts on Feb. 14 relaxed social distancing measures to free up space for trials and clear case backlogs.

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Nate Raymond reports on the federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at nate.raymond@thomsonreuters.com.