The New Normal in Courts after COVID-19

By Muhammed T. Hussain, Esq.

As the world has learned to live with the COVID pandemic, so have the courts. But, just as with restaurants and salons, the courts have implemented numerous changes to deal with the pandemic. Even though there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel in 2021, it is likely that the COVID restrictions will stay in place through the end of 2021, if not later. This article will examine the various adjustments the courts have made in response to the COVID pandemic, and its potential benefits and pitfalls.

Remotely Appearing at Hearings

Prior to the pandemic, some judges in state and federal courts required the personal appearance of lead counsel at all hearings, while other judges required personal appearance of lead counsel for Case Management Conferences and other important motions. However, on account of COVID, all judges are required to permit counsel to appear remotely. Depending on the court, remote appearances can be made via CourtCall, Zoom, or in the case of Los Angeles Superior Court, the new LA CourtConnect system. Remote appearances result in lower cost to clients as clients will not have to pay for attorneys to travel to the hearing.

Email Service of Papers

Another change that can be viewed as a mixed blessing is the broad permission of email service of papers in a lawsuit. Prior to COVID, parties had to stipulate to email. But, due to COVID, the Judicial Council’s Emergency Rule #12 permits email service without a stipulation. This saves significant costs of mailing or overnighting the papers. However, it is not all good. Emails can get caught up in spam filters, or if the attachments are too big, they may not get delivered. To avoid missing important emails, you should  do the following:

  1.  find out if you have any size restrictions for the attachments to your emails, and adjust the filters if necessary;
  2. provide opposing counsel a list of people from your firm who should receive service of any papers;
  3. inform the other side of any file restrictions for your emails; and
  4. whitelist the opposing counsel’, and their staff’s, email addresses.  

Unlawful Detainer Actions Are Much Harder to File

The biggest restrictions instituted by the courts in response to COVID was to make the filing of Unlawful Detainer (“UD”) actions landlords much harder. The Judicial Council had instituted a moratorium on all UD action in March 2020, by ordering all court clerks not to issue summons for any UD action, which restricted the service of the complaint and the initiation of the UD action. The Judicial Counsel lifted the moratorium as of September 1, 2020.

However, the Judicial Council has issued a new form that must be filed with the UD complaint in order for the summons to be issued – “Judicial Council Form UD-101 – Plaintiff’s Mandatory Cover Sheet and Supplemental Allegations – Unlawful Detainer” (“FORM UD 101”). Form UD 101 is now mandatory and must be filed by plaintiffs (landlords) in UD actions. This four-page form is detailed. It requires landlords to outline many aspects of the landlord’s case and explain why the eviction should be allowed to proceed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Further, numerous cities and municipalities have also passed ordinances that restrict evictions if the non-payment of rent is due to COVID-related loss of income or business. These restrictions apply to commercial properties as well as to residential properties. There are a few exceptions to this new restriction, which, along with the various ordinances passed by municipalities, make filing and proceeding on UD actions very tricky. Landlords and their counsel should familiarize themselves with these restriction before initiating UD actions against tenants.

To discuss the above topic, please contact Muhammed Hussain at muhammed@encorelaw.com or any other Encore Law attorney.

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