Los Angeles County will stay all criminal trials for two weeks starting Wednesday, as coronavirus infections continue to rise in the region due to the infectiousness of the Omicron variant.
Presiding Judge Eric Taylor has said trials will be suspended until Jan. 19, a timeframe that will allow court officials to “balance access to justice with local public safety needs.”
“I will continue to consult closely with LA County Public Health officials (…) on local conditions and any changes to public health orders and guidelines during this winter wave,” Taylor said. in a press release. “For the second winter in a row, vacation gatherings fueled widespread community transmission. “
The news came a day after a panel of judges ordered a stay of all federal trials in Los Angeles, Riverside and Orange counties. No timetable has been given for a return to normal functioning of the federal judicial system.
LA County recorded about 45,000 new cases over a weekend filled with New Years festivities, well above the high average of 16,000 cases per day last December. Health officials have also warned that weekend counts could be an undercount due to the holidays.
The delays could prove to be a headache for prosecutors and court officials already trying to clear a massive backlog of cases caused by the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
LA County courts process an average of 100,000 cases per year. Court officials did not immediately offer a system-wide workload update. But in an order issued last year, then presiding judge Kevin Brazile said there were at least 7,000 criminal cases in LA County that needed to be heard “to satisfy the statutory rights of accused to a speedy trial ”.