Now arrives Apocalyptic Justice.
I’ve done a lot of thinking about this the last few days. I’m sure a lot of people have. Some of those people are probably smarter than me. A lot of them are not. In any event, I’m going to talk mostly about what is happening with the courts and jails today. I’m not planning to dip too deeply into the Coronavirus Catastrophe, which I wrote about the other day.
Also, I do want to note that I’m a lawyer; not a doctor. I have a bit of a medical background—I was an orderly as a teen, then a Navy Corpsman, Emergency Medical Technician, and, finally, owned a medical transcription business for many years, during which I listened to, and transcribed, medical reports day-in and day-out—but I’ve never even played a doctor on TV. So any medical statements I make may be way off.
There is every appearance right now that what I wrote the other day is way off. It may be. I don’t really know. As I said, I’m not a medical doctor. And, like anyone and everyone else, the news has been scaring the crap out of me lately. Both I and my wife are in high-risk groups. My job brings me into contact with large groups of people every day. Last week, I was in three different courthouses (with all their cramped elevators), three different jails, and one prison.
And, as I told a friend/colleague of mine before he yelled at me to “Stop it!!!,” I would never forgive myself if I brought something home that killed my wife.
What Courts Are Doing Around the U.S.
So what does Apocalyptic Justice look like? Earlier in the week, I became aware through social media connections that courts throughout the United States were not all reacting the same way. I’m not going to bother finding the stories again and linking them. I’m sure you all know how to use Google.
Though the specifics were a little different in each area that I heard about, the essence of it was that courts were shutting down, or withdrawing, or turning public hearings into de facto closed hearings. Some courts were completely shutting down certain functions. “Service areas,” which I suppose means clerk-staff windows to help the public, were being shut down. Certain types of cases were not being heard. Others were requesting that attorneys make appearances using CourtCall, which has its own coronavirus advisement now on the front page of its website.
One county that I heard of in Florida was also suspending weekend sentences. These are sentences where someone is ordered to report to the jail on weekends, but is able to go home so they can work during the week. Other courts were dismissing low-level offenses, which raises the question of “why can’t we do that all the time?”
Why can’t we? Because most of the time, these cases aren’t about public safety. They are about controlling the public, reducing constitutional protections over huge swaths of people for a time, and making money for those who work the criminal “justice” system. But, unlike most of those misdemeanors, coronavirus is an actual threat to public safety. It also comes with its own justification for ignoring constitutional protections, so those other considerations aren’t so important. Thus, one aspect of Apocalyptic Justice is that (some) courts (at least) will ignore the petty crap that usually makes up the most of their
By the end of the weekend, I had heard that Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Minnesota (or Michigan—for some reason I always mix these two up), Florida, Texas, and maybe a couple others I’m forgetting right now all had begun implementing Apocalyptic Justice by postponing trials, blowing through statutory requirements, and otherwise trying to put things off for anywhere from a few weeks to a couple of months.
What Are California Courts Doing?
In California, it was all crickets. California Supreme Court Chief “Justice” Tani Cantil-Sakauye provided virtually no guidance to California courts at any level on how to respond.
In the face of the growing outbreak, courts have taken a patchwork of measures: months-long delays in trials, excusing jurors over the age of 60, and temporarily closing courthouses altogether.
Initially, courts in counties where I practice criminal defense did not seem to be reacting at all, while Orange County, Los Angeles, and San Francisco were all—like other courts across the nation—in various stages of shutdown. Fresno actually had a notice in place then that said, “Business as usual.” They still have that same notice posted. However, an update notes that they will be scaling back court operations immediately. As early as yesterday morning, I had a case that was due to go to trial. It was continued out about two months. Another attorney wanted his to go forward, but he was told that there were likely not going to be any cases going out for trial assignment. He was told they wanted to put things out at least two months.
Madera County and Tulare County both have policies that include shutting down a variety of services. In addition, they both are suggesting the use of CourtCall even for criminal cases. Trials seem to be suspended. If I recall correctly, they’re going out about eight weeks.
I have heard nothing from Hanford courts.
I am considering creating a special page with information about courts in my area and their new procedures, which I will try to keep updated to track our evolving Apocalyptic Justice. Right now, I’m not sure I have enough information for that. If I do it, I’ll come back and add a link in this section for it.
How Does Apocalyptic Justice Impact Other Criminal-Case-Related Services?
Fresno County Jail
As with the courts, there has been a reaction from the jails. I haven’t gone to see about this myself yet, but I’m told that as of Monday, there would be a new procedure in place for attorney visits in Fresno. Supposedly, over the weekend, the Fresno County Jail had ceased all visits from relatives. I’m assuming that telephone calls are still allowed, as it would not make sense to stop those, but I don’t really know.
Madera County Jail
Ironically, the Madera County Jail is still allowing normal attorney contact visits, according to someone I called there at about 11 a.m. (March 17, 2020). I say “ironically” because Madera County Jail has one of the most draconian visiting schedules which even restricts attorneys to three short periods during the day—periods I might add, when a lot of us have trouble getting there because we’re actually working in court, or elsewhere.
Tulare County Jails: Visalia & Porterville
Visalia—which for those who don’t know is Tulare County—is restricting all visits for 30 days. This was initiated March 12, 2020. The restriction includes attorney visits. However, if you are an attorney with a case that is actually going to court before then, you will be allowed a no-contact visit. I spoke to two people about this: a deputy at the main jail wasn’t sure about how it worked; a scheduling deputy at the Bob Wiley facility gave me the information I included here.
Tulare County’s new South Valley jail in Porterville told me that there are no family visits. Professional visits are still allowed, both contact and no-contact, according to the deputy who answered the phone at 11:30 a.m. on March 17, 2020.
Kings County Jail: Hanford
It sounds like family visits have also been stopped at the Kings County Jail in Hanford. Attorney visits are still allowed. These are normally done in an interview room with a glass partition, anyway. I did ask about contact visits, and was told that they could be done, but that the staff would prefer the “monitored” visit. Yeah, that’s the word that was used, and took me aback, so I asked for clarification, and it sounds like the normal interview room with the glass partition. (So, now, does that mean that my suspicions that they’re actually listening in on us there are confirmed?)
Are We Overreacting?
In my article from the other day, I said I thought we were overreacting to this virus scare. I said that the flu is still more deadly, because of the greater numbers involved. That article discussed my concerns that our legal system would become paralyzed by the coronavirus catastrophe. I said this would potentially impinge on the rights of prisoners. And I discussed the problem of scientifically-illiterate judges and junk science.
I seriously do not know if we’re overreacting. More recent news gives more hope. But as I’ve already said, I’m a lawyer, not a doctor. As I also said, I’m in a high-risk group; my wife is in an even-higher risk group; and I really don’t want to kill either one of us through ignorance, and ignoring those who know better.
The Fear Factor
For several days, this concern has had me bouncing back and forth between the roles of Harry Potter and Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1.
You don’t know why I listen to the radio, do you? To make sure I don’t hear Ginny’s name. Or Fred, or George, or Mum.
You think I’m not listening too? You think I don’t know how this feels?
Except in my case, one minute I’m Ron, trolling the Internet for every story I can find about coronavirus, how it will impair basic rights, and the Apocalyptic Justice situation. The next minute I’m Harry, going mad through the never-ending stream of incomplete information.
Here’s the sad thing: do everything we’re being told, and when we pull through this, it will look like an overreaction. If it doesn’t work, we’ll wish we’d done more, and sooner.
The Numbers: Are They Accurate?
No matter what happens, things are going to get worse for virtually everyone alive. (The dead will know nothing of it.) If one of the worst-case projections that I’ve heard turn out to be true, then 70% of the United States will become infected, and possibly 6% will die in the U.S. With a population of 325-327 million, that’s one helluva lot of dead people. (For the math impaired, it’s more than 13.5 million dead people. And, as I said, while they won’t even know they’re dead, the living will.)
But there are reasons to believe this simplistic calculation is wrong.
“What you can safely say […] is that if you divide the number of reported deaths by the number of reported cases [to get the case fatality ratio], you will almost certainly get the wrong answer.”
– Prof. John Edmunds
Even the low numbers I’m recalling that I heard—30% infection, 1% case fatality rate—yields a high number (about a million by my math).
About 218 million people in the United States are between the ages of 18 and 69. So let’s say that around 200 million need money to live, and many of them probably get it by working. Even the low rate gives us about 600,000 dead from that group.
And What Of The Living? Will We Recover?
But guess what? Whether it’s 600,000 dead, or 13.5 million dead, or any other number, this still leaves a shitload of people who are still alive.
Apocalyptic Justice takes away constitutional rights from significant swath of these people. It’s not just those tied up in our so-called “justice” system who suffer. The right to work? Obliterated, at least temporarily, and possibly for the long-term, for a huge number. The right for stupid young people to associate (i.e., go out to bars, without any consideration for whether they will carry the coronavirus home to mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, or other compromised-by-health relatives)? Gone, and a precedent set.
What about the small businesses (like mine, for example) that might go under? I’m not an airline, or other industry, such that I can count on the government for a bail-out large enough to keep me afloat. And our houses if we can’t cover our mortgages in two months? Will stress, homelessness, loss of health insurance (and the medications people with heart problems, respiratory problems, etc., obtain only because they’re insured) result in even more dead people? I don’t know.
So, yeah, lots of people will be dead. But lots more—more than 95% of Americans—will still be alive, and trying to save their jobs, their homes, their way of life.
I’m not clear that we’re overreacting. I do still suspect we are. I say this even though I’m afraid, as I noted above, business as usual could kill me, or my wife. (And, incidentally, I thought her more likely to die than me. But there is reason to believe otherwise.)
Yet now, I’m even more afraid of the “side effects” of the coronavirus, and particularly of Apocalyptic Justice. When—or if—this is all over, will we all hold a weaker sheath of constitutional rights? Will it be even easier for jails and prisons to quarantine—or otherwise wall-off from the public—accused unconvicted and convicted people? Will attorneys and their clients return to the traditional contact visits? Or will jails and prisons relegate attorneys to the same type of visits that used to be used for family members? How hard will it be to shut down public events in a post-Apocalyptic-Justice society?
And, rights aside, how will those of us who lost businesses, jobs, houses, and retirement funds survive? I would love to hear all your thoughts in the comment section below!