Riverside Superior Court was short on jurors this month, partially because the company that prints the court’s juror summonses had a mechanical issue with their printing equipment.
The shortage contributed to the dismissal of a misdemeanor sexual battery case Dec. 8.
AT A GLANCE
- A sexual battery arraignment was right up against the deadline under the speedy trial law.
- A mechanical issue delayed printing jury summonses. With short notice, not enough potential jurors showed up. The arraignment was postponed a day.
- The next day there was no available courtroom and the case was dismissed.
- The DA’s office said Nov. 14 that Riverside Superior had dismissed 600 cases since Oct. 10.
- The court argues the delays were a consequence of the state underfunding Riverside County. A lack of resources is not considered cause for continuance under California law.
- The DA’s office argues the delays were caused by the pandemic, which makes them eligible for continuances under California law.
The mechanical failure by printer Taylor Communications has been corrected, said Marita Ford, Riverside Superior Court Public Information Officer and Chief Deputy of Finance and Human Resources, by email. Taylor Communications has been responsible for printing 100% of Riverside Superior Court’s juror summonses since Oct. 1, 2017, Ford said.
The issue was publicized by the Riverside District Attorney’s Office, which put out a release Dec. 14 that said Taylor Communications “failed to summon jurors.”
Ford said that the release was inaccurate, because the vendor did summon jurors, but a delay in mailing them shortened the time that jurors were notified of their appearance, which she said consequently reduced the number of jurors that showed up. The court had summoned more jurors for December, and expected an increase in jury trials for the month, Ford said.
Sexual battery trial dismissed
The DA’s release said the juror shortage caused a misdemeanor sexual battery trial, People v. Cruz (RIM2110404), to be delayed a day.
The next day, there were no available courtrooms to try the case.
Because the case was already long-delayed, Riverside Superior Judge John Molloy dismissed it.
Criminal trials in California have to be brought within 60 days of their arraignment under a speedy trial law, and can only be brought later if “good cause” is found to continue the trial. Emergency rules due to COVID-19 had already extended the time a trial had to be brought, but those rules expired Oct. 7. The case’s arraignment was Dec. 6, 2021.
The case’s dismissal also resulted in the termination of a court protection order for the alleged victim.
“This dismissal was caused by the court’s failure to summon jurors on the day when a courtroom was ready and available,” said DA Mike Hestrin on the DA office’s website. “The public is owed an explanation for the apparent lack of oversight of a third-party vendor contracted by the courts to summon jurors for this trial and for trials across the county for the entire month of December, 2022. This crisis is unacceptable and only adds to the daily toll of cases being dismissed by the courts.”
Deputy Public Defender Donovan Fleming represented the defendant. Riverside Public Defender Steven Harmon said by phone Dec. 15 that Molloy did everything right by finding good cause to continue the trial for a day because of the temporary juror issue, and by finding no good cause to continue the trial after the courtroom shortage.
Delays caused by Riverside Superior Court’s lack of resources are not considered “good cause” for continuances under California law.
Harmon said Taylor Communications let the court down, but that those things happen.
Case dismissals appealed in Riverside
The DA’s Office and the court are wrangling over mass case dismissals due to the speedy trial law.
The DA’s Office put out a statement Oct. 24 that highlighted the dismissals, followed by another Oct. 31 announcing the appeal of a dismissed case, and a third Nov. 14 that said 600 case dismissals have occurred between then and Oct. 10.
More than half the cases were dismissed by judges in the Larson Justice Center in Indio, which mostly handles criminal cases, the office said. The office has appealed some of the case dismissals.
The DA’s Office released a statement, and filed legal documents, that say the cases should have been continued because they were caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Delays caused by the pandemic are grounds for continuances under California law.
The court disagreed in an Oct. 25 release, and said the cases are backlogged due to an ongoing lack of judicial resources in the county.
Harmon said the court, the District Attorney’s Office and the Public Defender’s Office are all doing good work and pushing through Riverside’s shortage of judges and fallback from COVID-19 together.