REMARKS FROM THE PRESIDENT’S DESK
By: Will Wooten, Esq.
Trying to Survive During the Covid-19 Shutdown and Beyond
During the past month, I had the opportunity to speak with several different attorneys about what they and their law firms are doing to “survive” after Governor Gavin Newsom proclaimed a State of Emergency in California as a result of Covid-19. Governor Newsom issued a statewide shelter in place order with limited exceptions for essential services. Governor Newsom also declared that persons gathered in connection with essential services must implement social distancing of 6 feet per person.
A close friend of mine who is the managing partner at his law firm told me that his firm had discussed the possibility of furloughs and/or having to lay off members of his firm. He confirmed that if the courts didn’t open up soon and that if his attorneys couldn’t get back to working at the office full-time, they would have no choice but to take further action. Unfortunately, that “further action” would include lay-offs. Legal secretaries, paralegals, receptionists, and other office staff at his firm want to be able to work again full-time in the office. They are tired of staying home and wondering if the firm will survive if the shelter in place order is extended much further. What their firm needs is to have everyone back in the office working together as soon as possible. Stimulus checks only go so far.
Another friend told me that in order for his firm to survive, they were having their attorneys take pay cuts based on the amount of money that each attorney makes. The attorneys who make the most money in his firm will would take the greatest percentage of pay cuts. So, the more money an attorney in the firm made, the higher percentage he/she would give up as a pay cut. This was necessary because even though their attorneys have been able to work remotely from home during this time, the firm had lost tremendous amounts of revenue because their attorneys have been unable to attend arbitrations, mediations, and/or trials that would have brought in a lot of additional revenue to the firm.
In San Bernardino County, courtrooms were closed for judicial business, except for a few limited courtrooms handling time-sensitive, essential functions. The few courtrooms that remained open handled “essential” matters while the strict distancing protocols of at least 6 feet of social distance between each person in the courtroom were followed. (At least that was the idea).
My co-workers in the District Attorney’s Office who “volunteered” to go to court on a daily basis to handle such cases as Pre-Preliminary Hearings and Preliminary Hearings, risked not only their health, but the health of their families as well as they made sure justice prevailed during this time. Defendants were transported to court and attorneys, courtroom staff, deputies, and jail staff were at put at risk of being exposed to the Covid -19 virus during all this human interaction. It will be interesting to see if our County Supervisors remember these courageous acts performed by our prosecutors (and Public Defenders) when our next employment contract comes up for negotiations. Since they have now designated us as “essential” employees, it should go without saying that we should be paid accordingly as essential employees instead of being paid under the “fungible” employee label that they previously gave to us.
On a brighter note, it’s been refreshing to see attorneys who are members of the Western San Bernardino County Bar Association come together and offer help and support to others in the local legal community during this pandemic. Attorneys Geoff Newman and J.C. Allen from the law firm of Newman & Allen stepped up and offered to handle criminal court appearances for “at risk” attorneys. Additionally, our President Elect, Mike Scafiddi, is leading the way to create a fund to assist displaced legal staff from the San Bernardino County legal community. These are just a few examples of the kindness and compassion that attorneys in our legal community have exhibited during these trying times.
I truly hope that the month of May brings better times than we experienced in April. Hopefully, courthouses will re-open and all businesses will get up and running again. As always, I wish you all good health and safety as we navigate our way through these trying times.