At least one Santa Barbara Superior Court judge has tested positive for COVID-19 in this week and has been ordered to be quarantined at home, court administrator Darrel Parker confirmed today. Parker declined to confirm the identity of the judge who tested positive, though court watchers contend it was a South Coast judge who used more than one courtroom and reportedly did not strictly adhere to face-mask protocols.
Parker confirmed that seven members of the court have now been tested — two were judges, five were staff. Of those, he said, the results for two were negative. The rest have been ordered to quarantine until their test results reveal they are negative. It remains unclear how many other court employees might have been affected, not to mention attorneys, bailiffs, defendants, or other court administrative staff.
Jury trials have resumed at the court, though the numbers are small. One scheduled this week wound up settling before trial. Even so, 300 jurors were reportedly called for jury duty, but, reportedly, no more than 43 responded. The elderly are most susceptible to COVID-19, but they are not exempt from serving. However, people 70 and older will be excused from jury duty if they assert they have a medical or cognitive issue.
Trials have been backed up because of the disease and are set to resume in earnest on July 15. Whether that date is feasible given the recent increase in the number of COVID cases remains to be seen.
The challenges will be far more pressing in Santa Maria, where there are far more criminal trials and far more people charged with serious criminal offenses. It also happens to be where far more COVID cases are being reported.
According to new numbers released by the Public Health Department, 90 percent of Santa Maria’s positive cases involve people who are Latino, 65 percent involve people who live in dwellings with four to six people, and 33 percent involve people who make less than $50,000 a year.
Santa Maria also happens to be where the much-heralded MS-13 gang murder trial is slated to be held, in which more than 10 defendants will be tried in the same hearing for murder charges. All defendants are possibly looking at multiple life sentences if found guilty. Such a trial would pose massive logistical headaches under the best of circumstances. With COVID looming, it will be considerably harder.
Correction: Regarding the recent jury call, 300 people received a summons and 43 people showed up, not 500 and 80. People 65 years and older are not exempt from jury duty; seniors of 70 and older may state a medical issue that will exempt them from serving.
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