Coronavirus Fears Take a Toll on Santa Clara County's Court System

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Santa Clara County courtrooms have been very active despite the coronavirus scare, but new county-wide regulations and the public's fear could make court trials look a lot different than people are used to. 

Long lines of people waiting to get into court were still forming Monday morning as so-called “out of custody” cases and people charged with non-violent crimes were still on the calendars.

“There were like 20 people in the courtroom and they were close,” said Tom Weber from San Jose. “The seats in the courtroom are right next to each other. My concern is that anybody can walk in there and have the coronavirus and spread it.

The court system began making drastic cuts in services Monday including criminal cases.

The head of the Court Clerks Union said his 400 members agree

“Honestly they’re so scared right now, we have a lot of contact with the public,” said union president Johnny Lopez. “I’ve been getting calls all morning where they’re just not understanding why we are continuing to do this."

The public defender’s office also expressed concerns about the lack of effective screening for people with symptoms or considered high risk.

On Monday afternoon, the court began reassessing what are “essential” services as well as “essential personnel.”

However,  legal analyst Steven Clark pointed out that people in custody have a constitutional right to a trial regardless of public health concerns.

“What you’ll see is perhaps a jury trial taking place in non traditional fashions.. or non traditional courtrooms,” said Clark.

One potential juror  whose case was put off until April said coronavirus fears are already taking its toll. 

“There’s problems right now finding people to sit on juries,” said Marlene King. “Because some are sick or afraid of becoming sick.”

From the cases that will not be heard, Clark said it might take until the end of the year to deal with the backlog.

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