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Jury trials could resume in North County after completion of flooding repairs

Jury trials could resume in North County after completion of flooding repairs

From the What you need to know for Thursday, October 22 series
  • Updated
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Crews from Belfor Restoration on Wednesday installed hardware to fit the replacement doors for Superior Court departments 1 and 2, which were damaged after flooding at the Santa Maria courthouse in 2018.

Eleven of the 19 replacement doors needed to restore two Santa Barbara County Superior courtrooms that flooded more than two years ago were delivered Wednesday, advancing the prospect that jury trials soon will continue in the North County. 

The doors were delivered with a promise that the remaining six will be delivered Thursday, according to Superior Court spokesman Darrel Parker. 

Once restored and modified for COVID-19, the courtrooms will be used to handle criminal cases, while jury trials will be held in Department 8, Santa Maria's largest courtroom. Currently, jury selection and trials are held only in Santa Barbara. 

"We need those courtrooms complete so that we can have another judge sit in there and handle the trial judges' regular calendars," Parker said, adding it will be more convenient for jurors. "This is an effort to allow the trial judge to continuously handle the trial uninterrupted."

Superior Court officials have the authority to resume jury trials once it's safe to do so, although California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye provided the Superior Court authority to delay trials for up to 90 days, according to Parker. 

Parker didn't provide a timeline on when he expects the courtrooms to reopen. 

Cantil-Sakauye's order expired Sept. 16, although Parker requested and received an approval for an extension to Nov. 17. He plans to request an additional 30-day extension to Dec. 17, five days before the current one ends. 

Flooding of the two courtrooms occurred over the weekend of July 1, 2018, when a water pipe burst open, creating a pool of water on the floor of Department 1 that spilled over into Department 2, according to Judge Timothy Staffel, who presided in Department 1. 

Santa Barbara County's insurer hired Belfor Property Restoration, a Michigan-based contractor with offices in California, to restore the courtrooms. A cost estimate for the restoration was not provided. 

The company paid a nonrefundable deposit to TM Cobb, a Riverside company, to provide the doors for the two courtrooms, a lobby and public restrooms, according to Parker, adding that the doors were supposed to arrive on three separate occasions but didn't due to manufacturing delays. 

Departments 1 and 2 won't hold jury trials because they aren't adequate for social distancing guidelines, although coronavirus modifications will include plexiglass barriers between the judge, clerk, bailiff and reporter, and limited seating to accommodate distancing. 

When the courtrooms are finished, Judge James Rigali will preside in one. The other courtroom assignment hasn't been determined, according to Parker. 

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The following is taken from the Santa Maria Police Department's calls-for-service log and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office daily arrest log. Those appearing as "arrested" are only suspected of the crime indicated but are presumed innocent.

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