San Francisco’s courts are the latest institution to be impacted by the coming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference, which will fill the city with international leaders from Nov. 11 to 17, shut down parts of Downtown and snarl traffic.
The conference and its security zones will affect everything from court clerks to security and criminal cases, all of which will be slowed down or stalled, according to a judge and the San Francisco Superior Court. But some attorneys say the court’s closures are trampling the constitutional rights of their clients, many of whom have already had their cases delayed due to Covid.
“With the diversion of law enforcement to cover the event, we will need everyone’s patience and cooperation to keep our courts functioning well and efficiently despite these limitations,” read an Oct. 19 letter sent by Judge Loretta Giorgi to the Public Defender and the District Attorney’s Office.
The court is planning to have some operations reduced because traffic disruptions Downtown will hamper staff from coming to work, the letter said about the Hall of Justice. Since the letter, the court has announced it will limit its clerk hours to 8:30 a.m. to noon from Nov. 13 to 19 instead of between 8:30 and 4 p.m. The court has also stopped scheduling new court hearings, according to messages obtained by The Standard.
The court’s security will be impacted because sheriff's deputies will be used across the city for conference-related security, the letter said. Their absence or replacement will also impact courts because deputies are responsible for moving inmates from jail to court.
Witnesses will also be limited in criminal cases as law enforcement officers will not be able to testify in court because they will be working security or filling in for those working at the conference, the letter said.
Despite reductions in hours and operations, Giorgi said in her letter, that the court is planning to have extra arraignment courtrooms open if potential protests result in mass arrests.
Court spokesperson Ann Donlan said the court will remain open and the clerk’s office hours will be reduced but did not comment on the details of the court’s plans.
Despite the impacts spelled out by Girogi, the San Francisco Sheriff's Department will staff all open courtrooms, said Tara Moriarty, a spokesperson for the office.
While Moriarty acknowledged that APEC will stretch the understaffed department, the sheriff has implemented a modified workweek with overtime requirements for all deputies to fulfill needed security requirements.
The court’s decision to reduce some hours due to security and staff issues comes after years of Covid-related court delays. Year-old cases are still being delayed due to the backup from the shutdowns, and the APEC-related court hours will only further delay those cases, say attorneys.
“Due process cannot be treated as a convenience, yet it is once again taking a back seat. Unfortunately, San Francisco courts have gotten too comfortable with delaying individuals' legal rights, whether it’s for Covid and now for events outside of the criminal justice system,” Patti Lee, chief of defense with the San Francisco Public Defender's Office, said in a statement.
At least one public defender's client has already been impacted.
Deputy Public Defender Stephanie Tan’s client, who has been in custody since early October for a commercial burglary case, is not able to have a detention hearing during the conference, which means they will remain in jail.
When Tan attempted to schedule a hearing for mid-November, the clerk’s office responded on Nov. 1 with an email, denying her request.
“We have been directed not to set (hearings) on the week of 11-13-23,” the email said, “due to the APEC conference.”
Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at email@example.com