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COVID-response procedures are easing, but that doesn’t mean operations will return to the way things were before the pandemic, Riverside Superior Court’s Judge John Monterosso indicated in Friday’s State of the Court address.

I attended the meeting, which was presented by Zoom through the Riverside County Bar Association Friday.

That was the final day regulations related to the pandemic were in place. It was also the final day for trial suspension. As trials resumed Monday, Monterosso said, regulations like social distancing would no longer be enforced, but the court encourages people to use common sense.


The surge of the Omicron variant of COVID shut things down at the beginning of 2022. Infection rates were so high they couldn’t assemble all of the parties needed for a proceeding. 

“I wish I could say it’s substantially different than it was last year at this time,” he said. “(January, 2022 COVID) case numbers were at least double January, 2021.”

Just as is happening in most industries, some of the changes people were forced to adopt because of the pandemic have value, and will stay.

One thing that will continue post-COVID is live streaming, because it has real value. In a criminal matter, family and others who can’t make it to court can listen in to proceedings, Monterosso said.

And for now, masks will still be required for all people entering courthouses. This differs from the governor’s orders, Monterosso said, and numbers are dropping rapidly, so “we’re going to be looking at new CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) numbers with an eye toward modifying rules down the road.” 

“I’d rather be a few weeks too late lifting the mask mandate than a few weeks too soon,” he said.

But trials will resume, which needs to happen.


“I have to address the 800 pound gorilla in the room when it comes to criminal,” he said. “We have a significant backlog. A lot of this is par for the course for Riverside County due to resources, but right now based upon the governor’s state of emergency, the chief justice has powers to extend time for jury trial. We have applied for and have been getting authorization to implement 30-day extensions. Within 90 days, the chief justice’s authority will disappear. We’re preparing for that day.”

He said that it’s both good news and bad news that judges in Riverside County have experience with criminal backlogs. One thing they know: “We can’t try our way out of a backlog.”

Remote proceedings

Remote proceedings, which the court was able to essentially mandate for civil cases, seemed to be well received, he said. “They are an efficient way to conduct civil law and motion.”

Monterosso’s opinion is that the legislature erred in giving litigants the authority to mandate remote proceedings, but with what local authority the superior courts have, Riverside’s civil judges and staff were able to come up with a civil rule, effective immediately, that helps.

“Default hearings are still in person, however we wish to encourage those of non-evidentiary hearings to give notice that you wish to appear remotely,” he said. “All you have to do is give informal notice to the other side.” It’s just a click of the mouse. “We welcome you to use this very simple process.

“Courts do have authority in civil cases to mandate remote proceedings for evidentiary hearings. They kind of got it backwards.”

E-filing is now up and mandatory. The court is also in the process of changing its court-management system.


When COVID hit, the state was hit with what appeared to be a budgetary crisis, he said. For the 2020-21 budget the courts got significant cuts. Riverside Superior did not lay off any staff but they did implement a soft hiring freeze. For a limited time they were down to around 800 staff members, from around 1,100.

The budget they’re working under now restored all those cut funds.

Riverside is in the process of hiring right now, Monterosso said. It’s a long and slow process. When you hire a worker for the courts, they’re not interchangeable. Different positions require different levels of skill, experience and training. The court probably won’t be at full staffing for more than a year. 


Looking at next year’s budget, which starts in July, the governor’s proposal includes increases to the judicial branch, which is welcome, but it also includes funding for the remaining 23 judgeships statewide, which is exciting.

Those seats have been available to be funded since 2007. “That’s right, 2007.”

Of those Riverside Superior would get four. “Assume we get those, we’re still nowhere close to where we need to be. Our workload assessment says we should have 115 and we have 85.”

Six would go to San Bernardino County, which is also severely under-resourced, he said. 

“It’s been an extraordinary period of time when it comes to turnover,” he said. Nine judicial officers departed, and there was an immense amount of experience lost with them. In the same period, eight new judicial officers have come in.

That leaves six vacancies for which the governor could appoint at any moment. Monterosso expects another vacancy imminently: President Biden has nominated Riverside Superior Judge Sunshine Sykes to the Federal District Court.

“One of the hallmarks of Riverside County is we rely on assigned judges to serve on our bench,” he said. “They’re fantastic and they do a good job and I’m so grateful that they do so, but there are not enough.”

He said there are significant holes in the Desert region. 

“We have four judges who are not seeking re-election. New judges will not be eligible to start their jobs until January, 2023, unless the governor decides to appoint early.”

He concluded by talking about the two new courthouse projects, which just broke ground and which I wrote about earlier.

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