On April 21, the Litigation Section of the Bar Association of San Francisco hosted a virtual State of the Court presentation and Q&A with San Francisco County Superior Court leadership. Presiding Judge Garrett L. Wong, Assistant Presiding Judge Samuel K. Feng, and Court Chief Executive Officer Michael Yuen each provided an update on court operations during COVID-19 before answering previously submitted audience questions in a Q&A session moderated by Scott Lawson, Lawson & Lawson. More than 1,200 attorneys joined the virtual town hall, which was co-sponsored by seven regional and statewide bar associations, including the Alameda County Bar Association, California Lawyers Association, Contra Costa County Bar Association, Marin County Bar Association, Minority Bar Coalition, San Francisco Trial Lawyers Association, and the San Mateo County Bar Association.
While the court continues to provide essential services, reopening courthouses and resuming full operations present a complex set of challenges. Due to the many uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic, a return to full operations will be gradual once the shelter-in-place order is lifted. Mutual accommodation, civility, and the recognition that the crisis is a shared experience and challenge were common themes throughout the presentation. The judges emphasized that the situation is out of everyone’s control and that the court will show flexibility and grant as many reasonable accommodations as possible. But play nice, the judges insisted, noting that a successful resumption of trials and motions depends on parties being reasonable with each other.
Many questions centered around deadlines, trial dates, and how jury trials will be handled in the post-shelter-in-place court. Balancing access to justice with health and safety concerns will guide all of the solutions to the countless logistical issues the court faces. From how to set up a courtroom to how to conduct voir dire, every step of the process has to be reexamined. The judges acknowledged that ramping up operations will not be easy, in a courtroom environment where judges wear masks and counsel can no longer approach the bench. “Everything is a work in progress,” Judge Feng said in closing, before Michael Yuen offered reassurance that despite the “herculean task” ahead, “together, we will get through this.”
You can also watch the recording of the State of the Court on our website at www.sfbar.org/court-updates.