BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — The American Civil Liberties Union and the First Amendment Coalition filed a lawsuit today against Kern County Superior Court alleging officials denied the public and press access to court proceedings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lawsuit claims that a standing order by Judge Judith K. Dulcich restricts “access to any and all courthouses...to those persons required to appear in person for a court hearing” and makes no provision for the press or the public to access those proceedings in any alternative way.
Court officials responded to 23ABC stating they cannot comment on pending litigation.
Janie Randle, one of several plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said she has been denied access to court hearings concerning her son, accused of attempted murder.
"The Bakersfield mall is now open, as are some casinos in the county,” Randle said in a declaration for the lawsuit. “I do not understand why it is okay to open up casinos but we cannot go into the courthouse. That fact that people can gamble but I can’t watch my son’s court hearings is not right."
The access restrictions began on March 23 when the Kern County Superior Court issued a standing order barring the public from attending proceedings.
Earlier this month, the court said members of the public would be allowed to attend hearings or be provided with audio streams. The lawsuit alleges though that this process has been "highly erratic at best."
The lawsuit asks a federal judge to require the Kern County Superior Court to allow in-public access consistent with social distancing and a viable alternative method for remote access.