Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Wednesday, October 29, 2003


Page 1


San Bernardino County Fires Close Court Buildings


By a MetNews Staff Writer


San Bernardino County courts will continue to operate under an emergency order because of wildfires, giving priority to time-sensitive cases and matters involving juveniles or safety issues, Presiding Judge J. Michael Welch said yesterday.

San Diego County courts, closed yesterday and Monday due to the fires there, were to remain closed today, according to a recorded announcement on the court’s main telephone number.

As shifting winds threatened to send the blaze designated as the “Old Fire” raging into Big Bear, Welch ordered the courthouse there closed at least through Nov. 7. The Twin Peaks courthouse was ordered closed Monday.

Cases from those districts have been reassigned to the San Bernardino District “until such time as those courts can be reopened.”

Welch said employees at the Twin Peaks facility fled the courthouse with little more than personal photographs from their desks and the hard drives from court computers.

“The files are still there,” he said, adding that the courthouse is a tin-roofed, block wall facility. He said no damage report was available yesterday, but said he had received a report that the Twin Peaks community was burning.

“We have no idea—it really looks like the worst,” he said.

Welch said Judge Michael Dest, who is a member of the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Search and Rescue team, remained in the mountain region and had been phoning in updates.

Welch issued an order Monday closing the Twin Peaks courthouse through at least Oct. 31, and diverting cases to San Bernardino. Yesterday, he extended the order to the Big Bear courthouse as county officials issued a mandatory evacuation order for the entire mountain.

Welch’s second order extended the closure date for Twin Peaks into November.

The order signed Monday called for cases to be heard countywide on an emergency basis through Tuesday. The order called for “preliminary hearings and criminal jury trials with time running, family law restraining orders, domestic violence restraining orders, delinquency and dependency detention hearings and other cases that in the court’s discretion should be handled on an emergency basis” to be given priority.

Welch said yesterday he was extending that order through Friday.

President Bush declared  Southern California a major disaster area Monday. San Bernardino Assessor Donald E. Williamson also declared the region a disaster area under the tax code, providing potential tax relief for property owners suffering more than $10,000 in damages from the fires.

Williamson’s office estimated the damage at more than $225 million. More than 485 homes and other structures have been destroyed or damaged.

Tuesday, an online bulletin board established by the San Bernardino County Bar Association was filled with offers for aid ranging from housing, office and conference space all over the region to temporary quarters for livestock. Other attorneys offered to make appearances in areas rendered inaccessible by on-and-off freeway closures.

An attorney evacuated from her mountain community posted a poignant message of appreciation to those who responded to the SBCBA’s call for aid. Local attorneys and law firms, private judging companies, and the San Bernardino and Riverside County Bar Associations were among those offering assistance. Office space was offered in locations as distant as West Covina.

The San Diego County court system was completely shut down Monday and yesterday. Chief Justice Ronald M. George issued an emergency order Monday under Government Code Sec. 68115 authorizing Presiding Judge Richard E.L. Strauss to declare the two days be deemed holidays for the purpose of calculating filing deadlines and to extend various other deadlines for criminal and juvenile matters.

Yesterday George extended the order to include today.

Sec. 68115 permits those measures when necessitated due to “war, insurrection, pestilence, or other public calamity, or the danger thereof, or the destruction of or danger to the building appointed for holding the court.”



Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company