New rules on civil cases announced for courts in Riverside County

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RIVERSIDE (CNS) – Pending trials of civil actions where the compensation sought exceeds $25,000, including complex lawsuits that involve multiple parties and issues, will not proceed in Riverside County for several months as the Superior Court reorganizes amid the coronavirus emergency, it was announced today.

County Presiding Judge John Vineyard announced that all court and jury trial dates for so-called “unlimited civil cases” that were on the calendar for May, June and July have been vacated. The change stemmed from a uniform mandate handed down by the California Judicial Council, which applies statewide and is a direct result of COVID-19 mitigation measures.

According to the order, pretrial hearings and settlement conferences that had been scheduled are also vacated. Completion dates for court-ordered mediation are automatically postponed six months from the original date of completion.

Merit hearings and hearings on petitions for extraordinary relief that are on the calendar in any civil case will now convert to standard status conferences, which are often continued.

The order stipulates that discovery proceedings will continue without interruption, but any filings for demurrers or pretrial motions that were made after March 16 are no longer valid.

Parties seeking to reserve new pretrial hearing dates were asked to file requests by July 31.

The court noted, however, that hearings on ex parte applications, requests for civil harassment restraining orders and requests to renew restraining orders are going forward.

Meantime, on Monday, the Riverside Juvenile Dependency Court on Farm Road, which had been shuttered along with eight other courthouses, is slated to reopen after a two-week closure.

The juvenile court was shut down on April 13, and all operations were shifted to Southwest Juvenile Court in Murrieta, out of concerns that staff at the Riverside facility had come into contact with COVID-19 carriers. But all courthouse employees have since tested negative for the virus, according to Superior Court spokeswoman Marita Ford.

“In addition, the court has not had any other reported cases of exposure, or potential exposure, in that facility,” Ford said, prompting Vineyard to direct that it resume operations on April 27.

However, the judge’s order impacting eight other courthouses is unchanged, and all will stay closed until at least May 1.

Ford told City News Service last week that the judge is extending the rolling closure orders in “two-week increments.”

“That is due to the fact that government and other state court orders change, restrictions change — social distancing, masks, exposure — and we want to be able to reassess our situation frequently, but with enough time in between to ensure we are making sound decisions,” she said.

Ford said Vineyard is in frequent consultation with judges in every region of the county, as well as Superior Court Executive Office staff, to gather consensus on possible resumption of operations.

Under an order issued by the judge on March 16 and re-implemented on April 2, most operations — and all public access — at the Banning Justice Center, Corona Courthouse, Riverside Historic Courthouse, Hemet Courthouse, Moreno Valley Traffic & Smalls Claims Court, Palm Springs Courthouse, Riverside Family Law Courthouse and Temecula Courthouse were suspended.

The downtown Riverside Hall of Justice remains open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., along with the Indio Larson Justice Center, the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta, the Blythe Courthouse and Southwest Juvenile Court.

Video arraignments, which began March 31, are being utilized to preclude moving defendants from jailhouses to the courthouses, and hence increasing COVID-19 exposure risks, officials said.

The Superior Court’s web portal remains available, though the timely updating of information on cases has been impacted.

Last month, the Superior Court implemented a series of policy changes that remain in force, all of which are based on the need to safeguard against coronavirus.

The foremost action was to halt criminal jury trials, which have been suspended for 60 days, beginning March 17.

All traffic court trials have been postponed until further notice, while other traffic hearings, as well as small claims matters, are deferred for 90 days from March 17.

Parties who need more information are urged to visit www.riverside.courts.ca.gov, or call the court at 951-777-3147.