The following article is based on the contents of a recent announcement made by the Family Law Presiding Judge JUDGE GREGORY SYREN:
On March 17, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 shelter in place and social distancing mandates, the Alameda County Family Law Presiding Judge obtained an emergency order from the Chief Justice. This emergency order designated the closure of the courts. The order allowed for the re-issuance for a period up to 30 days of any restraining order due to expire during the time frame of closure.
The Alameda County Presiding Judge then declared the filing of Restraining Orders and Temporary Emergency Orders as “urgent” and , under her broad authority authorized the continued filing of those actions at the Hayward Courthouse. As a result of the Chief Justice’s orders, the court was prevented from filing any other actions — Request for Orders, Petitions, stipulations and non emergency orders cannot be filed at this time.
Notwithstanding the above, the Court will continue to accept requests for emergency relief in Family Law matters. In light of the extended court closure and the COVID-19 crisis, the court will broadly interpret what is deemed ‘great or irreparable injury’ in considering temporary orders in these requests.
These measures are an attempt by the court to provide access for litigants to preserve retroactivity on support modification requests and to have a process to put the automatic temporary restraining orders in place where a delay due to the court closure will cause harm.
Parties seeking this court relief must comply with notice requirements and responses must be submitted on time in the drop box. The court will accept such requests by drop box filing only, and a drop box has been set up at the public entrance to the Hayward Hall of Justice for that purpose.
It is anticipated that all court matters calendared during the period of time the court is closed will be continued to new dates selected by the court. It is inevitable that this arrangement will create court calendar conflicts and scheduling problems. The resetting of existing cases will inevitably collide with the demands of scheduling an anticipated surge of new cases that stopped processing while the courts remained closed. These competing case management issues will present unique and difficult challenges for the court.
The Alameda County Family Law court is currently contemplating two courses of action:
One, if the Chief Justice re-issues additional temporary emergency orders, that those orders would include the ability of our court to accept filings of additional items. These items might include new child support filings, stipulations and orders, new petitions, requests for orders for support, judgments, and contempts.
Two, the court is in the process of enacting changes to our local rules which allow/mandate appearance by telephone or video conference. Setting up this system will involve an existing court call process and new appearance methods.
Our courthouse building itself remains closed until April 8, 2020 pursuant to Alameda County Public Health Officer’s “shelter in place“ order. These are the orders as we now find them.
These rapidly changing events affecting the ability to access the courts place sharp focus on the immense benefit derived from legal representation by an experienced family law attorney familiar with the court and its evolving operations.