Five nonprofit legal service organizations sued the presiding judge of the Los Angeles County Superior Court on Tuesday, seeking to prevent the court system from compelling in-person court appearances for traffic and unlawful detainer hearings.
The lawsuit, filed by Public Counsel and other legal service groups, asserts that Presiding Judge Kevin Brazile’s order requiring in-person appearances violates attorneys’ and litigants’ constitutional rights. The plaintiffs argue that the persistent coronavirus outbreak in Los Angeles County creates a “fundamental health risk” to the hundreds of individuals gathering in the court building daily. They contend that the court’s protocol to reduce the risk of the spread of coronavirus is limited and “loosely enforced.”
Pointing to the inability to properly socially distance in the court and the building’s lack of adequate ventilation, the litigants argue that the courts have forced them to forfeit their constitutional rights and risk their lives to promote their interests in court. The legal groups stated that enforcement of the in-person appearances disproportionately impacts people of color, who are particularly vulnerable to the virus, as well as those with low incomes, who do not have the resources to pay off tickets and cannot avoid their court date.
Furthermore, the groups said that civil legal aid attorneys are also disproportionately impacted by the court’s protocol and the court has threatened them with sanctions for not appearing in-person. Notably, public health experts have determined that the court’s conditions are unsafe and likely to result in the transmission of the virus.
The legal groups note that Los Angeles County is the “epicenter” of the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, the court’s action is contrary to public health experts’ suggested practices to contain the virus. The organizations indicate that the Los Angeles Superior Court is capable of closing for traffic and unlawful detainer matters and argue that it must do so in light of the severity of the crisis in the county.