While the state is following the Stay at Home Order to thwart the spread of the novel coronavirus (“COVID-19”), this has caused an unprecedented court closure. The San Diego Superior Courts has closed their normal operations since March 17, 2020, with very limited emergency services available. As this is being written the San Diego Superior Courts are scheduled to reopen on May 26, 2020.

The court closure has placed many cases in limbo by postponing motion hearings or trial dates, nevertheless, there are still several things that can be done during the courts closure to keep your case moving along or preparing your case for filing when the courts reopen.

Keeping Pending Cases Moving Forward

If you already have an established case pending but are waiting for the courts to reopen, this would be an opportune time to commence settlement negotiations. Regardless, of what side of the case you are on (Plaintiff/Petitioner or Defendant/Respondent) trying to negotiate settlement is advantageous to reducing attorneys’ fees and costs. The courts’ calendar has always been impacted due to the sheer volume of cases, and now that the courts have been closed for over a month the concern becomes that those hearings/trials that need to be rescheduled will cause even more of a backlog in the courts. As such, attempting to move forward with settlement will assist in not having your case delayed by the courts scheduling.

Now is the time to take advantage and start working with your attorney on strategizing on settlement terms such as what terms you want and what terms you would be willing to settle for. Settlement negotiations can take several different forms such as written settlement offers or even participating in either telephonic or video conferences with all attorneys and parties participating. Despite practicing social distancing this does not mean we cannot participate in virtual meetings. These can be great ways to open the lines of communication to commence settlement discussions.

Sometimes, when settlement negotiations commence it is clear that perhaps a neutral third party is needed to assist in reaching a full settlement. This leaves the option of participating in private mediation. Participating in private mediation is a great use of time while the courts are closed. There are numerous mediators continuing to mediate cases via the virtual realm, which will likely become our new reality during this pandemic. Luckily, technology affords us the ability to participate in virtual mediation with the ability to separate groups, meaning we can have video chats with all parties and then breakout into separate video chats with just your attorney and the mediator. This is in a similar fashion to the in-person mediations.  Participating in private mediation is a great use of time while the courts are closed.

Discovery

Discovery is the method used to obtain evidence to support your case or evidence to support your defenses. There are several different discovery tools at our disposal, such as written discovery or depositions. Discovery is key in preparing for trial and even when preparing for mediation. If you have not commenced or concluded discovery now is the optimal time to prepare and move forward with discovery. While the courts are closed you can work with your attorney on discussing what next steps in discovery can be taken to prepare your case.

If you have not filed your lawsuit, prepare it now.

If you have not filed a lawsuit, but had been thinking of doing it, get started on the paperwork now because when the courts do resume services they will be inundated with cases. There will likely be a backlog of cases and filings in the courthouse, in order to get ahead of the flood of filings to come as a ramification of the court’s closures. Making the decision to move forward with filing a lawsuit can be a difficult task and now is the time to speak with an attorney about your options, give our office for a free consult.

By: Iris Gomez, Esq., Attorney at Contreras Law Firm