In the time of quarantine and shelter in place, Courts around the San Francisco Bay Area are working quickly to put together plans for how to handle pending cases. Contra Costa County has outlined its Emergency Local Rules, just as San Francisco Probate Court has also done. But what is Alameda County doing? For a look at the Alameda County Probate Court’s Status, attorney Emily Nashban reported back from a call with the Judges this week:
1. The Judges are requesting that attorneys use and get comfortable with video capability as much as possible. This may be the new way to use the Court until at least June and possibly longer, depending on social distancing guidelines for the summer.
2. The Court is now up and running on a limited basis. They are trying to move matters forward so that when they are allowed to make decisions they can. This means that attorneys may get Examiner’s Notes for hearings far in the future.
3. There is a dedicated drop-box in Berkeley Probate Courthouse now. The Judges would prefer items to be dropped there.
4. Fax-filing is up and running in a limited capacity. There are emergency local rules that spell out what can be filed in general. There is a delay between fax filing (in a centralized location) and the Probate Court seeing items. If you file something that is not listed in the emergency rules your filing will sit until the Clerks are told they can review and file the document. The same is true for the drop-box.
5. If you do not see a specific rule relating to the Probate Department you will need to infer from the Civil Rules. The Judges have not gotten all the probate rules out into the press releases yet.
6. One can file temporary and general conservatorships, and related initial documents, preferably through the drop-box.
7. You can provide email notices for almost everything. See the emergency local rules for the exceptions.
8. The Probate Court is working on getting limited hearing dates set up. Check the press releases for confirmation of this. When this happens, Probate will get one day per week to hold hearings. Judge Bean will hear matters from 9:00 am–noon; Commissioner Sundeen will hear matters from 1:30-4:30.
9. They expect to be able to hear 8 pregrants and up to 4 emergency ex-partes per Judge per week.
10. The Judges request Stipulations and Orders and Waivers of Objections and Notices to move those matters along so they can sign off as easily as possible.
11. If this is not possible, they ask that you try to provide a new 15 day notice and they hope to hear cases like this by the end of April. Make sure to include in the notices all of the video conferencing notifications and to check DomainWeb for the hearing date. The Court will try to advance the hearing date if they believe they can move the matter through as a pregrant.
12. Court Sales of Real Property: Commissioner Sundeen feels these could be fundamentally problematic in a Conservatorship setting. There is a working group forming to look into the problem. Court sales of real property are supposed to be public auctions where overbidders have the opportunity to overbid.
Residents of the San Francisco East Bay are relying on the critical services provided by our Probate Courts. Probate Courts not only handle Trust and Estate matters that facilitate the transfer of money to citizens who may be especially in need at this time, they also facilitate Guardianship and Conservatorship matters which are essential for the care of many individuals.
We are all in this together. Our firm continues to push for more assistance from the courts during this difficult time, whether by phone, mail, e-filing, fax-filing, or video conference.
We look forward to a positive new way for residents of the San Francisco Bay are to utilize our court system that minimizes physical interaction while also moving matters forward and serving our community.