Most public health restrictions ending at county courthouses Tuesday

City News Service

Most limits on public access to Riverside County Superior Court buildings will be lifted Tuesday based on recent state changes in public health restrictions, but the court will continue masking requirements, depending on a visitor’s vaccination status.

“Our orders are enforcing the regulations and guidelines issued by the California Department of Public Health and the emergency temporary standards issued by Cal-OSHA,” Superior Court Executive Office spokeswoman Marita Ford told City News Service.

According to Ford, the administrative orders from the state agencies permit members of the pubic, attorneys, law enforcement personnel and other visitors who have been “fully vaccinated” to come and go from courthouses without masks. Those who have not received coronavirus vaccinations are supposed to wear them.

Individuals who seek access to courthouses but haven’t received a coronavirus shot and who reject a face covering can be escorted out of facilities, according to the Superior Court.

However, the requirements are based on the honor system, and neither courthouse security guards or sheriff’s deputies are empowered to ask anyone, directly, questions regarding health care, including whether a person has received a coronavirus shot, Ford said.

There are no paper document, or “vaccination passport,” regulations in effect.

“Guards will state the following admonitions: You must wear a mask if not fully vaccinated; anyone experiencing COVID-19 symptoms should not enter the courthouse,” Ford told City News Service, adding that there will be signs bearing the same warnings.

Murrieta-based civil rights attorney Robert Tyler told CNS the court’s admonitions don’t on the surface infringe on anyone’s liberties, but the new system hasn’t been fully tested.

“We’ll see what happens. There may be a lawsuit against the court when the first overzealous security guard challenges someone’s vaccination status,” Tyler said.

Ford acknowledged that “guards can follow up and ask challenge questions if they suspect someone is ill, or an unmasked individual is violating a court order.”

According to Tyler, the ongoing masking criteria promotes a climate of fear and could hobble attorneys and their clients when they try to present cases still wearing masks, indicating they haven’t been vaccinated, while judges, other attorneys and jurors aren’t wearing them, indicating they have been.

“The court order going into effect really segregates people in a place where justice is supposed to be blind,” Tyler said.

“I could have a client who has a religious or intellectual objection to being vaccinated. Because of that, there may be a bias against that person because he or she didn’t get the shot.”

Tyler could not predict where the Superior Court’s policy may lead, but he hoped “judges will continue to uphold the rights of people to receive a fair trial.”

Ford emphasized that “parties will not have to declare their vaccination status, as they will be attesting to their status by virtue of the fact that they are — or are not — wearing a mask upon entry to a courthouse.”

According to the Superior Court, with all distancing requirements ending Tuesday, there will be no limits on seating in courtrooms, which also concerned Tyler, who said he had witnessed sporting venues requiring people to sit in defined spaces based on whether they had received a coronavirus vaccination.

Ford noted that “enhanced sanitation and ventilation protocols” will be maintained.

Courts will also continue to provide audio livestreams for most proceedings.

In April 2020, the Superior Court implemented a range of pubic health restrictions in response to the Gov. Gavin Newsom’s coronavirus state of emergency, which has not been rescinded.

In addition to universal masking and distancing requirements, several courthouses were completely closed to the public, while the rest shifted to part-time accessibility. Many jury trials were postponed, though trials resumed in the summer of 2020.

All courthouses are now in operation.

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