The Orange County Bar Association hosted a web conference yesterday with Orange County Presiding Judge Nakamura, Judge Hernandez and Court Executive Officer David Yamasaki about the Orange County Superior Court’s operations going forward. The conference provided valuable insight on the near-term future of civil litigation practice in Orange County. What follows is a non-exhaustive summary of the most impactful issues for civil cases.
Perhaps most importantly, the court does not expect to begin hearing non-emergency civil motions remotely. With approximately 90% of court staff sheltering in place, the court presently lacks the personnel and resources to transition the entire law and motion calendar to a remote format. Further, doing so would be at odds with the court’s earlier order, considering each day of the court’s closure should be considered a holiday for deadline calculations. Nevertheless, emergency matters, such as preliminary injunctions, are being heard.
There is already a substantial backlog of all case types, with many more cases and motions being filed each day. As the court moves towards reopening, criminal matters will be prioritized, and it is anticipated that civil judges will be required to hear criminal cases. This will cause delays in civil proceedings beyond the current court closures. Judge Nakahara explained that, in his conversations with Civil Panel judges, they anticipate hearings on civil motions will likely not re-commence until late July or early August.
Upon reopening, the court expects to schedule conferences with the parties in each matter to address rescheduling hearings and trials. Notably, while expectations may vary by judge, it is contemplated that discovery will continue during the current closure, and the court may soon begin administering informal discovery conferences remotely. In any event, the panel advised that parties will not be rushed into scheduling trials if they have been unable to complete discovery.
Because of the substantial backlog of cases, trials currently scheduled for dates shortly after the end of the current court closure will be continued, but the continuance will not occur until the courts re-open. Accordingly, pre-trial deadlines remain in effect pending further direction from the court. Judge Nakamura noted that stipulations between parties for reasonable trial continuances will likely be honored. In the meantime, the Civil Panel plans to establish a voluntary settlement conference program for parties to discuss settlement, with a judge or temporary judge acting as a facilitator.
Finally, new complaints being filed during the court closure are not presently being file stamped, nor are summonses being issued. The court intends to have staff begin processing new case filings remotely, but does not have a firm timetable for doing so.
Author: Benjamin P. Pugh, Shareholder, Enterprise Counsel Group and Nicholas A. Dellefave, Associate, Enterprise Counsel Group