OCTLA’S February 2021 Virtual MCLE Program: Trial Tips from the Bench, A Huge Success!

On February 26, 2021, Orange County Trial Lawyers (OCTLA) held a virtual MCLE program called “Trial Tips from the Bench.” The program moderator was OCTLA President, Cynthia Craig, Esq. of Kubota & Craig, PC. Panelists included: Hon. Erick Larsh (Orange County Superior Court Presiding Judge), Hon. Lynn Poncin (San Bernardino County Superior Court Presiding Judge[JT1] ), Hon. John Monterosso (Riverside County Superior Court Presiding Judge), and Hon. Samantha Jessner (Los Angeles County Superior Court Presiding Judge[JT2] ). This event was co-sponsored by Doctors on Liens and C. Jackson Investigations, Inc. This event was open to all OCTLA attorney members and non-members.

Key Take-Aways:

• Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside and Los Angeles Counties all still require face masks in the Courthouse (face shields are not permitted[JT3] ). Los Angeles County requires witnesses to testify wearing a face mask. Orange County allows a witness to remove his/her face mask while testifying. San Bernardino and Riverside Counties have not yet resumed in person civil jury trials.

Develop a jury questionnaire prior to your trial date addressing COVID-19 related topics (ie. are you afraid to be here because of the COVID-19 pandemic, etc.). This will assist the Court in making hardship determinations and making efficient use of time.

Be Prepared and Be Flexible – It Will Make It More Likely Your Case Gets Out for Trial. Reaching stipulations with the other side will make it more likely your case gets out for jury trial on the assigned date. Attempt to stipulate to: (i) fewer than 12 jurors, (ii) admissibility of business records and other documentary evidence, (iii) allowing certain witnesses to testify by remote video technology, and (iv) anything else you feel would make the Court more inclined to send your case out for in person jury trial.

 

Court-Specific Updates:

Orange County Superior Court – Hon. Erick Larsh

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, there have been only 29 civil unlimited jury trials and 190 civil unlimited bench trials. In person civil jury trials have resumed, but there are currently only 6 courtrooms open accommodating in person civil jury trials. Hon. Layne Melzer is the 2021 Orange County Superior Court Civil Panel Supervising Judge.

If your case has a jury trial date and all parties answer ready, then your case will be sent to Hon. Layne Melzer for priority and trial readiness evaluation. The following factors are being considered by Hon. Layne Melzer in order to determine which cases get priority: (i) whether case is a preference case (CCP 39); (ii) when was case filed; (iii) estimated length of trial; (iv) number of parties; (v) 5-year statute date (CCP 583.310); (vi) will parties stipulate to fewer than 12 jurors; (vii) is this an expedited jury trial; (viii) any other relevant information.

Attorneys who are more flexible will have a better probability of getting sent out for jury trial on their assigned trial date.

 

San Bernardino County Superior Court – Hon. Lynn Poncin

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, there has only been 1 civil jury trial completed.

San Bernardino County Superior Court is allowing in person appearances for hearings. The other option is telephonic appearances (San Bernardino only offers video appearances in very few departments).

San Bernardino County is allowing minor’s compromise petitions to be heard via Court Call so long as both the attorney and petitioner appear.

Attorneys are asked to deliver courtesy copies of all filed papers directly to the department because some filings are not making it to the assigned judicial officer.

Criminal trial backlog is taking preference over civil jury trials and there is currently no estimate as to when in person civil jury trials will resume.

 

Riverside County Superior Court – Hon. John Monterosso

All hearings in Riverside County (including bench trials, law and motion and MSCs) are currently conducted over WebEx. If you are willing to stipulate to a bench trial, your case will be heard remotely on the trial date assigned. In person civil jury trials have not been resumed.

There is currently no estimate as to when in person civil jury trials will resume. Riverside County judges are currently working on a virtual platform to conduct civil jury trials (similar to the platform used in Alameda County first remote jury trial: Ocampo, et al. v. AAMCO Transmissions, Inc. et al) which should be ready for implementation soon.

 

Los Angeles County Superior Court – Hon. Samantha Jessner

Los Angeles County Superior Court is currently limiting access into courthouses to primarily the following: (i) persons who have business in court; (ii) interpreters; and (iii) staff.

All civil courtrooms have implemented LA Court Connect. Attorneys can appear remotely for hearings by telephone for $15.00 and by video for $23.00. Information can be found at: https://my.lacourt.org/laccwelcomeIn person civil jury trials have resumed, but with strict social distancing requirements including face masks for all attorneys, parties, witnesses and jurors, and six feet social distancing at all times.

If parties stipulate to a bench trial in front of a particular judicial officer, arrangements can be made by the Presiding Judge to assign that judicial officer to the case for a bench trial.

If the parties do not stipulate to a bench trial, then stipulating to fewer than 12 jurors will increase the  likelihood of getting sent out for jury trial.

You can watch the full MCLE Program, Trial Tips from the Bench, and earn 1-hour MCLE credit HERE

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