By Janene Scully

Noozhawk North County Editor

The Santa Barbara County Superior Court will continue limited operations through at least May 23 while plans for fully reopening suggests vacating all criminal and civil trials and rescheduling them for new dates.

Late last month, amid the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic, Presiding Judge Michael Carrozzo issued a local administrative order extending the closure of the court through May 23, with only essential court services remaining open. 

The Superior Court Clerk’s Offices continue to be closed to the public. 

Carrozzo also ordered that all traffic and nontraffic infraction fines, all community service completion dates and all traffic school completion dates are extended by 90 days from their original due dates. 

For weeks, court operations have been limited to arraignment hearings and some preliminary hearings in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara. 

Steps are in the works to install equipment for remote video hearings to help expand operations while working through logistical problems such as how to accommodate civilian witnesses without exposing hearing participants, according to Court Executive Officer Darrel Parker. 

One solution involved equipping attorneys’ meeting rooms in the court buildings but outside the courtroom for witnesses to make their “remote” appearances.

“Beginning now, we’re working aggressively to try to restore more services with expanded use of video appearances over Zoom,” Parker said. 

He said he also hopes to bring back court clerk staff as soon as next week but noted that those offices would remain closed to the public until after May 23.

“I’m just trying to get all the sanitizing equipment and protocols in place this week,” Parker said. 

Because of the Memorial Day holiday, expanded court services would not resume until at least May 26.

All existing trial dates will be vacated, but court officials still were wrangling with how to handle potential jurors in an era of social distancing. That might mean smaller panels — 15 instead of the usual 35 to 75, most likely quadrupling the time needed for jury selection. 

The focus isn’t limited to criminal courts.

“We’re concerned about the civil and family law side of things as well, and we’re working just as aggressively to restore those services,” Parker said. 

Court leaders recognize that the court closures also affect the economy, he said.

“We have a ripple effect, and we’re cognizant of that as well,” Parker said, adding that they must balance the health and safety of employees, judges, attorneys, defendants and litigants along with constitutional rights.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at