The Judicial Council is holding an emergency meeting tomorrow by teleconference, and the just-published meeting agenda and report shows an intent to consolidate and broaden the Chief Justice’s statewide emergency powers.

The agenda’s executive summary:

Because of the immediate and ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on California’s judicial branch and at the request of Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, Chair of the Judicial Council, the chairs of the Judicial Council’s six internal committees recommend that the Judicial Council: (A) authorize and support the Chief Justice and Chair of the Judicial Council in extending deadlines for certain court proceedings until 90 days after the state of emergency related to COVID-19 is lifted; (B) direct the superior courts to use technology in court proceedings and operations, when possible, to conduct judicial proceedings and court operations remotely, to meet the constitutional due process rights of defendants, and to comply with social-distancing mandates; and (C) submit a recommendation to the Governor requesting an emergency executive order that suspends all legal authorities that impede the use of technology in court proceedings and authorizes the Chair of the Judicial Council to extend deadlines for certain court proceedings until 90 days after the state of emergency related to COVID-19 is lifted. Pursuant to its authority under article VI, section 6 of the California Constitution as the policymaking body of the California judicial branch, the Judicial Council should take these temporary actions due to the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, in order to protect the health and safety of the public, court employees, attorneys, litigants, and judicial officers, as well as staff and inmates in detention facilities, and law enforcement.

This is a dramatic change from the Chief Justice’s initial statements about the limits of her authority.  In a statement, she said, “The authority to adjust or suspend court operations rests with local court leadership.”  (See here.)  Similarly, last week, the Chief Justice said in a letter to the state’s superior court presiding judges, “The relief I am authorized to grant with an emergency order is limited to the items enumerated in Government Code section 68115.  In California, unlike other states, each of the 58 superior courts retains local authority to establish and maintain its own court operations.  This decentralized nature of judicial authority is a statutory structure that reflects the diversity of each county.”

But the pending Judicial Council actions are consistent with the Chief Justice’s most recent order suspending jury trial’s statewide.  (See here.)