Court

Raul Lopez works at the Clerk of the Superior Court’s Office at the county courthouse in this photo from April.

Santa Cruz County’s presiding judge is calling all parties involved in judicial proceedings back to court effective Monday, Aug. 31.

In an administrative order dated Aug. 19, Judge Thomas Fink required attorneys, witnesses, court personnel and “other persons necessary to a proceeding” to attend superior court hearings in person, “consistent with pre-­COVID practices.”

The move ends a practice by which some participants were allowed to attend proceedings via Zoom.

Fink’s order still allows judges to grant special permission for a participant to appear remotely, or to order someone to do so. Crime victims can choose whether to attend in person, as they could prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Anyone entering the courthouse must still wear a mask at all times, Fink wrote in his order, and social distancing measures will be enforced.

Members of the public who are not participants in court proceedings are still not allowed to attend in person, but can watch certain criminal and civil hearings online via YouTube.

On Aug. 17, Fink scheduled two jury trials to begin in September and October after having paused the proceedings earlier this summer. In his Aug. 19 administrative order, he noted that the jury commissioner – Clerk of the Superior Court Juan Pablo Guzman – will encourage and allow prospective jurors to appear remotely for the jury selection process through an online platform, as long as they have the necessary computer equipment.

In another administrative order dated Aug. 13, Fink ended a system he implemented back in March in which staff within each department at the courthouse was split into two groups working on rotating schedules.

That system will officially end on Aug. 31, though the judge’s order allows department heads “to adapt staffing levels in their respective units if health issues develop such that changes are needed to prevent all or a substantial portion of the personnel in the unit from being infected or requiring quarantine, or for other independent reasons.”

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