Public Health

Los Angeles superior court fined over $25K for COVID-19 safety violations after courthouse worker deaths

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The superior court of Los Angeles County has been fined more than $25,000 for COVID-19 workplace safety violations following the deaths of at least four courthouse workers.

The superior court plans to appeal the violations, according to a court spokeswoman who said the state agency that imposed the fine does not have complete information, report the Los Angeles Times and Law360.

The court system is also facing a civil lawsuit accusing it of prioritizing nonessential operations over safety. According to the Los Angeles Times, court workers and lawyers complained of dangerous conditions. Among their complaints: Judges allowed witnesses to testify without masks, and workers and lawyers were unable to socially distance in meeting rooms and during inmate interviews.

The superior court initially shut down most proceedings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but many in-person proceedings resumed by late 2020.

The California Division of Occupational Health and Safety, known as Cal/OSHA, imposed the fines for at least three alleged violations connected to courthouse interpreters who were hard-hit by COVID-19.

About 16 court interpreters may have been exposed to COVID-19 in late 2020 after one tested positive for the virus, according to court records cited by the Los Angeles Times. Fourteen of those potentially exposed quarantined at home, but two did not because of fear of being fired. One of the two, Sergio Cafaro, died from COVID-19.

Another interpreter also died, along with a public defender and a court clerk, according to reports here, here and here.

One violation cited by Cal/OSHA said the court failed to immediately notify Cal/OSHA of an employee’s hospitalization with COVID-19. A second violation said the court failed to ensure physical distancing in an interpreters lounge. The third alleges a failure to train interpreters in COVID-19 prevention.

Ann E. Donlan, communications director for the superior court, told Law360 and the Los Angeles Times that court records indicate that Cal/OSHA was notified of Cafaro’s illness within eight hours of receiving notice.

She said the interpreters room had signs instructing employees to remain 6 feet apart and to wear masks. She also said all court employees received COVID-19 safety training.

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