Like with many other sectors, COVID-19 has affected the justice system in Fresno County.
“It’s been significantly impacted,” Cristina Jelladian-Buchner, president-elect of the Fresno County Bar Association said.
Trials, especially, have been delayed. Many appearances are made through teleconferencing.
Attorneys Adapting to Technology
Jelladian-Buchner, also a family law attorney with Wild, Carter & Tipton, is set to take over in 2022.
One of the biggest changes for attorneys has been adapting to technology.
“Probably for those that are more tech savvy, it was easier. I think certainly as time goes on, just like everything else, it becomes something that’s more functional and easier to use,” Jelladian-Buchner said.
Jelladian-Buchner said video meetings work during status conferences with the judge and opposing attorney. Some court functions are still best in person, she said.
“With trials and other contested hearings where there’s argument or testimony, I think there can be challenges with the use of technology,” Jelladian-Buchner said. “We all had to learn how to navigate and use Zoom, share screens, connect microphones or speakers, and other settings some may have not been familiar with. The most important setting of course being ‘Mute.’ So there’s always a learning curve.”
Jelladian-Buchner said most in her profession prefer to be present in the courtroom.
“When you argue in person, there is less opportunity for confusion because if an issue arises, you are present in the courtroom to address it. However, via Zoom, if there’s a technical issue, the unfamiliarity with technology has the potential to increase nerves and make people, in general, a little more uneasy,” Jelladian-Buchner said.
She recalled that she has sometimes been present in the courtroom while the judge and clerk participated remotely.
Throughout the pandemic, attorneys were considered essential workers and thus kept working.
Jelladian-Buchner noticed increased cases in certain areas of the legal system including landlord/tenant conflicts, domestic violence and in her own area of expertise, family law.
“We saw an increase in custody and visitation disputes. School closures and schedule changes have impacted children and their families,” Jelladian-Buchner said. “You had to roll with the punches each day. There was always something new to deal with.”
The pandemic has led to many rule changes at the Fresno County Superior Court, including limited operations and entry into the courthouse itself.
Jelladian-Buchner supports the moves made by Presiding Judge Arlan Harrell.
“It continues to be a work in progress. He has done an excellent job in handling the curveballs thrown at all of us during this pandemic,” she said.
Continuing Education Returning
Recently, FCBA began offering continuing legal education for the first time in several months. January’s topic dealt with bankruptcy.
COVID affected the FCBA’s ability to offer attorney referral services, which provides up to a 30 minute free consultation with potential clients who pay a $35 administrative fee.
“That service has been impacted tremendously just because we’ve had closures for a short time … the Bar association was closed down,” Jelladian-Buchner said, although attorneys still accepted new clients on their own.
The pandemic has also affected FCBA’s pro bono program which provides civil legal services and representation in areas such as domestic violence restraining orders and eviction defense.
The amount of services FCBA can provide is contingent on what the pandemic restrictions allow.
“In the next year, our goal is to keep up with these changes and to continue offering services to our community and benefits to our members. We started 2021 with offering online MCLE (continuing education) presentations to our members,” Jelladian-Buchner said.