Orange County District Attorney David M. Hoovler announced on Tues., Mar. 17, how the District Attorney’s Office will continue to perform its essential functions during the current corona virus outbreak.
“The District Attorney’s Office is currently coordinating with our law enforcement partners to ensure that police agencies continue to receive around the clock assistance with respect to search warrants, investigations, arraignments and other emergency applications,” said District Attorney David M. Hoovler. “Our staff is in constant contact with the Emergency Operations Center monitoring events, and consulting with County Executive Neuhaus and other emergency management officials. We are taking all steps possible to protect the public and our staff during this critical stage of the coronavirus response.”
Limited Courtroom Operations
All County Courts and City Courts have limited their courtroom operations to primarily handle arraignments, matters involving orders of protection, and applications dealing with whether a defendant should continue to remain in custody.
“We are discussing with the courts, and with the Legal Aid Society of Orange County, conferencing cases by video or by telephone to limit in-person contact. Most of our Town and Village Justice Courts have adjourned their proceedings to later dates,” said Hoovler.
Meetings Over Phone or Via Internet
Assistant District Attorneys have been instructed to interview witnesses, including police officers, whether to obtain information or prepare them for litigation, over the telephone, or by means other than in person whenever possible. With the exception of court appearances, all interaction with outside agencies, such as meetings and training sessions, must occur by phone or via the internet, or be cancelled.
Grand juries perform a vital function, allowing law enforcement to keep dangerous offenders off the streets.
“Our grand juries are currently still meeting. Starting tomorrow, the grand jury will be sitting in the Orange County Legislative Chambers, which is much larger than the grand jury room. This will allow the grand jurors to sit further apart and achieve better ‘social distancing’,” said Hoovler.
To further protect grand jurors, and office staff, Assistant District Attorneys are preparing witnesses who must testify in person, using designated conference rooms outside of our interior offices and are putting as much distance as possible between themselves, witnesses and grand jurors.
“We are monitoring the Governor’s executive orders to see if the statutory time we have to place a case before the grand jury to ensure that a dangerous offender remains in custody will be temporarily increased during this state of emergency, but thus far there has been no such order,” said Hoovler.
Prepared for Greater Restrictions
The Office is prepared for greater restrictions being placed on meeting in the Office. All Assistant District Attorneys have been issued cellular telephones which act as “hotspots” to allow remote internet access, and laptop computers.
These tools provide the capacity for Assistant District Attorneys to access the office and case files and perform their work from their residences in the same manner as they can from the Office. All telephone lines in the Office can be forwarded to cellular telephones, and District Attorney Hoovler has developed a Continuity of Operations Plan to ensure that both the general public and law enforcement agencies will have the same access to the Assistant District Attorneys that they have always had.
“In general, every crisis brings out the best in our community as residents band together to help others, such as ensuring that elderly neighbors are receiving proper care and food,” said District Attorney Hoovler. “Unfortunately, there are those who try to take advantage of the situation by using the crisis to defraud others, or those who place the greater community at risk by failing to abide by lawful emergency orders designed to prevent the spread of the virus.”
Beware of Scams
The District Attorney’s Office is alerting the public to beware of scams such as phone calls asking for charitable donations related to the coronavirus outbreak. The public is also advised not to give out credit card information over the telephone. E-mail phishing attacks are another way that malicious cyber actors try to trick victims into giving money or revealing sensitive information. The public is warned to avoid clicking in unsolicited e-mails and be wary of e-mail attachments. The District Attorney’s Office will also be investigating those who engage in price gouging in order to profit on the crisis, in addition to other categories of outright fraud.