Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the Family Law Bar, Including an Open Letter from Ventura County Superior Court Judge JoAnn Johnson

These are unprecedented times.  Many Americans are at home, not working, anxious about the future.  Deferred compensation accounts and other investments have been battered by a wave of losses in the market.  Real estate values are uncertain.  Liquidity is uncertain.  Unemployment has surged, albeit maybe temporarily.  Imperial College of London optimistically estimates 1.1 million Americans will die in a relatively short time frame.  The generations experiencing these drastic changes and uncertainty are unprecedented.

Courthouses across the Country from the Supreme Court, Juvenile Courts, Criminal Courts, Family Law Courts and the like are closed.  Lady Liberty would be crying if she could.  Americans’ access to justice is at an all time low.

Now, more than ever, Parties in family law cases and their attorneys need to leave “hardball” behind and work to resolve issues in a reasonable fashion.  Parents who take advantage of this world situation by withholding custody, intentionally failing to pay support, violate court orders, etc. will hopefully be dealt with on the back end of this crisis with a stern hand.  In the midst of this crisis, does the summer custody schedule start now when school is out?  If the children are to be exchanged when school is back in session following spring break, are they still exchanged?  When exchanges are to be done at school, but there is no school, what now?  Parties need to be reasonable and apply common sense.  Even moreso, to the extent possible, we need to create a semblance of “normal” for our children during this crisis.  Just because adults are anxious and weary doesn’t mean that children need to be exposed to the same level of milieu.  Be decent to one another.  Be reasonable.  Make things normal for your kids.  We will all get through this and move on with our lives.

Judge Johnson’s Open letter to the Family Law Bar:
I hope that this finds you, your family, and support staff all healthy. As you know, the court has
been closed for three days, March 16, 17, and 18. These days are considered court holidays for
the purpose of calculating time. As of March 19, the court will be open for very limited services,
specifically emergency ex partes, including temporary restraining orders. There will be only one
courtroom open. The judicial officers will rotate daily. Once I have a schedule, I will provide
that information to you. For the 19th, Judge Smiley is available. On the 20th, Judge Liebmann is
available.
For TROs that expired on March 16, 17, or 18, the orders are automatically extended for 21 days.
Court staff worked over the weekend to prepare and file the DV-116 extending the orders. You
should have received, or will be receiving, the DV-116 in the mail. As of March 19, all TROs
that will expire in the next 14 days will be extended for up to 30 days. The exact process for this
is not yet finalized. I will follow up when I have more information.
RFOs have also been continued for 21 days. Minute orders were issued and notice was given by
mail. Any temporary orders should also have been continued, however I don’t believe the
minute orders specifically stated this. I will follow up with this also.
The mediation department is working on continuing mediations. I will be in touch with Al
Martinez and will follow up with more information after conferring with him.
Obviously, if this crisis continues, the courtrooms will be double, and possibly, triple set three to
six weeks down the line. My thought is that we can set RFOs on a Thursday or Friday once the
court is up and running to alleviate the pressure on the RFO calendars. I will be discussing this
option with the other Family Law judicial officers.
All specially set hearings or trials are continued for 42 days, however, this will result in most
trial calendars being double set. Once this current health issue has been resolved, each judicial
officer will have to adjust the trial settings as appropriate for his or her calendar. MSCs are also
being continued for 42 days. Please conduct voluntary settlement conferences, if possible.
I ask that all of you take this time to work on resolving your cases through mediation, voluntary
settlement conferences, private judges, or any other innovative process while recognizing the
need to take precautions. This situation may resolve in days, weeks or months, no one knows.
I can understand that your clients are anxious and want answers from you. I cannot give you
definitive answers as the situation is fluid and we are making decisions on a week-by-week basis.
I ask that you do not file ex parte emergency requests unless it is truly an emergency relating to
the safety or welfare of a child or domestic violence. Inconvenience is not an emergency. Noncooperation
by a parent is not an emergency. Financial issues are not an emergency. Do not ask
to advance a mediation as that cannot be accommodated. There is only one judicial secretary for
the entire courthouse. DO NOT expect to call in to Tamika or Monika for information.
I am aware that this does not give you the definitive information you and your clients want. Rest
assured that we are all working very hard to make sure, first and foremost, that any immediate

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