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People Fail to Appear in Court, but Judge Lets Them Go on ‘Zero Bail’ because of Pandemic

“Advocacy groups, including the Western Center on Law and Poverty and Dream Corps, believe the Temporary Emergency Bail Schedule will save lives for those in jail because, instead of placing inmates into a small cell and risking the spread of COVID-19, they are released and allowed to distance themselves from others.”

SUMMARY: California Courts issue Emergency Rule on Evictions and Foreclosures

At its meeting on April 6, 2020, the Judicial Council adopted an emergency court rule that effectively stops all evictions, other than those necessary to protect public health and safety, for the duration of  the COVID‐19 emergency. The rule is applicable to all courts and to all eviction cases, whether they are  based on a tenant’s missed rent payment or another reason. This new court rule will apply until 90 day after the Governor lifts the state of emergency related to the COVID‐19 pandemic, or until it is amended  or repealed by the Judicial Council. The rule:

  • Prohibits a court from issuing a summons after a landlord files an eviction case, unless necessary to protect public health and safety. This means that, even if a landlord files an eviction case,  most tenants will not need to respond until the emergency rule expires, ensuring that tenants  do not lose their right to tell their side of the story in court due to the emergency.
    • The time for a tenant to respond to a new eviction case does not begin until the tenant  is served with a court‐issued summons, and in nearly all unlawful detainers cases, no  summons will be issued during this emergency period.
    • If a court finds on the record that an eviction action is necessary to protect public health  and safety, the court will issue a summons even during this emergency period. Only in  these rare cases will a tenant be required to respond in court after being served with  the summons and complaint.
  • Prohibits a court from entering a default judgment against the tenant because the tenant failed to file a response, unless the court finds on the record:
    • The eviction is necessary to protect public health and safety; and
    • The tenant failed to respond in the time required by law, including any extension that  may apply due to the Governor’s Executive Order regarding evictions during the COVID19 emergency.
  • For eviction cases where the tenant has responded or appeared, prohibits a court from setting the case for trial earlier than 60 days after a trial is requested, unless necessary to protect public  health and safety.
  • Requires any trial in an eviction case that was already scheduled as of April to be postponed  until at least 60 days after the initial trial date.

In addition, the Judicial Council adopted an emergency rule related to judicial foreclosures. This rule also applies until 90 days after the Governor lifts the COVID‐19 state of emergency. The rule:

  • Prohibits a court from taking any action or issuing any decisions or judgments unless  necessary for public health and safety.
  • Postpones any legal deadlines for filing judicial foreclosure cases.
  • Extends the period for exercising any rights in a judicial foreclosure case, including any right  of redemption from a foreclosure sale, or petitioning the court in relation to such a right.

Note that this rule does not impact non‐judicial foreclosures, which comprise the vast majority of  foreclosures in California. Non‐judicial foreclosure sales are conducted by private parties outside the  courthouse and are not affected by these new emergency rules.

While these emergency rules effectively put evictions and judicial foreclosures on hold at least  through the summer, they do not establish any new tenant rights or defenses to an eviction, address  requirements for notifying landlords or providing documentation when tenants are unable to pay  rent due to loss of income or other COVID‐19 related reasons, or address how repayment will be  handled. These are all issues that would be difficult for the courts to take on, or that they don’t have  the authority to address. We expect that the Legislature will address these issues with urgency when  it returns in May.

California Courts set emergency bail schedule to $0 for most offenses

The Judicial Council, the head of California Courts, has issued new rules during COVID-19, requiring an emergency bail schedule during the pandemic.

The new rule sets bail for people accused of a misdemeanor or low-level felony at $0 while they await trial. It names 13 felony violations that are exempt to the rule in which a judge can still use the county bail schedule, and references their state constitutional authority to deny bail under certain circumstances.

“Ending money bail has been a long-time advocacy position of Western Center and we are grateful for this temporary pause of the unconstitutional practice of denying people freedom while they await trial unless they can afford to pay bail,” said Jessica Bartholow, policy advocate at Western Center. “We are hopeful that the Judicial Council will ensure that bail data collected during this time, which is required by Senate Bill 36 and is intended to prevent and document racial bias in pre-trial jail detention decisions, will still be pursued and reported to the Legislature during the pandemic, and that the Council will work to permanently end money bail beyond the pandemic.”

“The Judicial Counsel’s decision to set an emergency bail schedule to $0, for most offenses, will save lives,” said Michael Mendoza, National Director at #cut50, a program of the Dream Corps. “We at #cut50 welcome this temporary solution during this pandemic and look forward to ending the practice of money bail as we move past the immediate risk of COVID-19’s rapid spread and toward a justice system that prioritizes healing and restoration over punishment. More needs to be done beyond this temporary measure to keep people in jails and prisons safe – and to reduce the number of people behind bars. We urge all local, state and federal lawmakers to continue taking urgent steps now, before more lives are needlessly lost.”

California Judicial Council puts temporary ban on residential evictions

“Meaning that landlords can still file an eviction case but the tenant’s ticking timebomb of losing their home if they do get to the courthouse and file papers within five days is now put on pause,” said Sasha Harnden, who is a policy advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty.”

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