Nov 03, 2019
Courtroom by Candlelight
Nov 03, 2019
By Charles Dresow
The dedication of the Marin County Superior Court Bench, staff, security, bailiffs, deputy public defenders and deputy district attorneys shone even as the lights dimmed during the recent blackout. All of these individuals showed up to work and remarkably kept the Court functioning during the unprecedented challenge presented by the power outage.
On Monday, October 28, 2019, a generator powered the Courthouse, but minimally: only certain lights and electrical outlets functioned. Clerks from the civil and criminal divisions greeted attorneys and the public, taking roll of arrivals and directing litigants and attorneys. They quickly continued many non-urgent matters, lessening the load on the sole operating courtroom, Department F. Bailiffs and security staff helped everyone who needed to be there get there.
As the clock moved closer to 9:00, the dedicated public defenders and district attorneys congregated outside Department F with their files in hand (literally—elevators out of service meant no carts). There, they triaged the cases to determine what could be handled quickly and what needed more time. When the courtroom opened, the lighting could have been described as Italian restaurant romantic, the clerks having strategically set up shop lights near the few operating outlets. In this one courtroom, multiple judges worked together to manage their daily calendars, calling every criminal department, along with an urgent family law matter. Everyone worked together to get through the cases and get everyone home.
Even though Department F was the only open courtroom, it was not the only place court was held. In-custody criminal defendants have important rights regarding when their matters are heard. To protect these statutory and constitutional rights, a court for in-custody criminal defendants was convened at the jail. The Court, bailiffs, jail staff, public defenders, various private attorneys and district attorneys all cooperated to enable holding court in this unusual environment.
Overall, the dedicated members of the Court floor team kept the courthouse going until the close of business. Cases that had to be handled were handled. The public was served. It was a shining moment for the Marin County Superior Court, Public Defender’s Office, District Attorney’s Office, and the Sheriff’s Department.
The Marin County Bar Association and the public owe a debt of gratitude to all of the individuals who came to work and kept the courthouse open. They had the same obligations, anxieties and kids out of school that everyone else had. Rather than stay home and hunker down, they came to work and did their jobs. While I cannot speak for the public, I can give tremendous thanks on behalf of the Marin County Bar Association to all of these dedicated public servants.
Our region has faced historic wildfires in the last few years. It is always at risk for earthquakes. Now we are faced with planned blackouts. But the courthouse kept functioning, a sign that we could make it through. Lawyers have a duty to guard our clients’ interests even during natural disasters. It is critical that attorneys and law firms engage in disaster planning for their practices. Clearly, we cannot always count on electricity to power our devices or cell towers to connect our calls during a disaster. As one of my last acts as MCBA President, I will be forming an ad hoc disaster planning committee. Its goal will be to publish recommendations on how to handle and protect your law practice and clients during a disaster. The committee will also be available to assist the Court in planning for disaster. If you would like to serve, please contact me directly at 415.453.9433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Dresow is a partner at Ragghianti Freitas LLP and is the MCBA President for 2019. His practice focuses on representing those accused of crimes.