Santa Barbara County Courthouse.
There is likely to be much less activity at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, above, in coming weeks as officials take steps to protect participants in the criminal-justice system from the novel coronavirus. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

It’s unlikely that there will be any jury trials in the Santa Barbara County Superior Courts in the near future, as the criminal-justice system seeks to protect its participants from the novel coronavirus.

That’s the word from Court Executive Officer Darrel Parker.

Superior Court Presiding Judge Michael Carrozzo met Thursday with representatives from throughout the legal community and urged them to work together to reduce the number of people who need to come to court, Parker told Noozhawk.

“We are looking at the number of jury trials we can continue and defer,” Parker said.

The hiatus on jury trials will last “at least a couple weeks, but it could be longer,” he added. “It depends on what we find, and how pervasive the virus turns out to be.”.

Reducing or eliminating jury trials means few if any citizens would have to report for jury duty.

Attorneys are being asked to work together to settle as many matters as possible, Parker said, and to reach agreements to postpone other cases where necessary.

The court also is exploring how it can use video appearances to reduce the number of inmates who must be transported between the jail and the courthouses.

Other strategies being pursued include:

» The use of telephonic appearances for court hearings when feasible.

» Establishing electronic filing for court documents to reduce the number of people required to go to the court clerk’s office.

» Using so-called 977 waivers so that criminal defendants do not have to appear for hearings, and can simply be represented by their attorneys.

» People paying fines are directed to pay over the phone or via the web-based payment system. Addresses and phone numbers are available at the court’s website by clicking here.

» Hand sanitizer dispensers have been placed throughout the courthouses and jury assembly rooms, and janitorial personnel have increased the frequency and intensity of cleaning, paying particular attention to door knobs, hand railings and work surfaces.

“We’re not changing any employee situations yet,” Parker said. “It could be we eventually scale back operations to just constitutionally mandated services.”

Those include arraignments, juvenile matters, warrants, domestic-violence orders and emergency protective orders, he said.

Parker said the changes “certainly will create a backlog, but that’s better than making people come together under the circumstances.”

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.