California courts will expand remote access via the telephone or audio stream, under a new law designed to make them more accessible to the public.
State and federal courts around the country began using remote access via the internet or telephone to handle cases as Covid-19 forced court closures. Remote hearings had the unintended effect of reducing caseloads below pre-pandemic levels by allowing California courts to clear their inventory, according to a study released Sept. 20.
The new law (S.B. 241) authorizes the use of remote technology in civil proceedings.
All 58 California superior courts can remotely hold proceedings in at least one case type and 39 courts in most or all case types, the Judicial Council said in a letter to Newsom supporting the bill.
The 25 courts that received modernization funding for remote video have held more than 500,000 remote proceedings in six months. Los Angeles County Superior Court alone averages 5,000 remote proceedings daily, the council said.
Separate legislation (A.B. 716) also signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) prohibits courts from excluding the public from physically accessing the court because remote access is available, unless necessary to restrict or limit physical access to protect health or safety. Courts must provide, at a minimum, a public audio stream or access via telephone when the courthouse is physically closed, except when the law authorizes or requires the proceedings to be closed.
Bar Bill Signed
Newsom on Oct. 8 signed the annual bill (S.B. 211) authorizing the California Bar to charge lawyers licensing fees. Active lawyers would pay a $395 base fee for a one-year license, while inactive attorneys would pay $97.40. Active attorneys also would pay an additional $40 for the client security fund, $25 for costs of the disciplinary program, and $10 for the attorney diversion and assistance program. The fees for inactive attorneys for the programs would be $10, $25, and $5, respectively.
The California Legislature oversees attorneys under the state Business & Professions Code and uses the annual bill to make changes in the bar and for the more than 260,000 licensed lawyers in the state. The California Supreme Court oversees attorney admission and discipline.
The fee bill requires the annual report on attorney discipline to be delivered by Oct. 31 instead of April 30. By Oct. 31, 2022, the agency also must propose case processing standards for competently, accurately, and timely resolving cases within the Office of Chief Trial Counsel, which investigates complaints about attorneys.
The California State Auditor’s office must by April 15, 2022, conduct an audit to determine whether the bar’s attorney complaint and discipline process adequately protects the public from lawyer misconduct.
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