Navigating the Future of California's Court System: The Battle Over Remote Hearings

Navigating the Future of California's Court System: The Battle Over Remote Hearings
Photo by Lucas Law / Unsplash


Stay informed with our weekly email delivering all the crucial Golden State news. In this edition, we delve into the ongoing struggle to make remote court appearances a permanent feature in California.

I. The Remote Courtroom Revolution:

Since the pandemic, Californians, including lawmakers like Sen. Tom Umberg, have embraced the convenience of remote court hearings, aiming to alleviate the backlog in the state's court system. The benefits extend to cost reduction and increased accessibility, especially for those unable to afford legal representation.

II. Annual Extensions and Legislative Hurdles:

Despite overwhelming positive feedback—with 96% satisfaction from over 3.5 million survey respondents—lawmakers have been annually extending the temporary program. Umberg's Senate Bill 92 seeks to prolong remote criminal court proceedings, but the resistance is strong.

III. Opposition from SEIU and Public Defenders:

Notably, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and public defenders oppose Umberg's bill. Concerns range from fairness in serious proceedings to potential inaccuracies in the court record due to unreliable internet access. SEIU's influence, reflected in substantial campaign contributions, adds complexity to the debate.

IV. Safeguards and Counterarguments:

Umberg's legislation addresses concerns by requiring a court reporter's presence during remote criminal hearings. Defendants also retain the option to attend hearings in person. The Judicial Council supports the bill, emphasizing provisions to protect system integrity and the authority for judges to order in-person proceedings when necessary.

V. Legislative Maneuvers and Past Controversies:

Umberg faced amendments in 2022 that led him to oppose his own bill, highlighting challenges in navigating legislative intricacies. The influence of SEIU, allegedly involved in amendments related to mentally ill individuals, adds a layer of complexity to the legislative process.


The battle over the permanence of remote court appearances in California continues, with stakeholders grappling over issues of accessibility, fairness, and system integrity. As lawmakers weigh the pros and cons, the future of the state's court system remains uncertain.

About the Author:

Ryan Sabalow, Digital Democracy Reporter for CalMatters, covers the evolving landscape of California's legal and political spheres.

Note: This article is based on the content provided and may not reflect the latest developments in the mentioned legislative process.

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