Did SLO County notify people exposed to coronavirus at the courthouse?


San Luis Obispo’s courthouse is operating under special rules following the discovery that the county’s third confirmed case of coronavirus was in the building last week. But questions remain about whether others in the building – attorneys, visitors, witnesses and inmates – were notified.

On Sunday, attorney Bradley Cornelius tested positive for the coronavirus, a public official said. Cornelius, a Nipomo resident and the county’s third confirmed case of the virus, worked last week in Department 3 in the San Luis Obispo County Courthouse. Cornelius’ wife tested positive for the virus shortly before he was tested.

Crews then disinfected the courthouse. Monday, several San Luis Obispo County courtrooms were temporarily closed. Public health officials have ordered multiple district attorney, public defender, probation, sheriff department and court employees to self-quarantine, and informed administrators at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse in Santa Maria. That court is currently in minimal operations, with one judge, two court clerks and a court reporter in mandatory quarantine.

Later Monday afternoon, Public Health Officer Dr. Penny Borenstein informed the public a third SLO County resident had tested positive for the virus, but because they withheld Cornelius’ name and failed to contact some of the county’s legal community, some were unaware they had had contact with someone infected with the coronavirus.

Attorney Ilan Funke-Bilu interacted with Cornelius Thursday morning at a Santa Barbara County courtroom and on Thursday afternoon in a San Luis Obispo County courtroom. Even so, the health department failed to notify him.

“I spoke with Brad Corneilius in the Santa Maria Courthouse and San Luis Obispo Courthouse,” Funke-Bilu said. “No one from the public health department contacted me.”

On Sunday evening, Funke-Bilu learned from San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow that he had been exposed to the coronavirus. Funke-Bilu then self-quarantined.

“I am terribly disappointed,” Funke-Bilu said. “If Dan Dow did not do the right thing and the compassionate thing, I would never have found out.”

Questions remain whether inmates who had contact with Corneilius have been quarantined. Tony Cippola, the SLO County Sheriff’s Department spokesman, did not directly respond to the question, instead writing in an email that the jail is unaware of which inmates were in Department 3 at the courthouse.

“I don’t have information on which specific department they were in, just those who had contact with the court last week,” Cipolla said in an email. “All inmates who have been in contact with the courts are being monitored as we continue to screen new inmates coming into the jail.”

The monitoring procedures were not laid out, and the new inmate screening would not apply to inmates who already had been jailed.

Following a notification, the California Supreme Court applied disaster rules to allow delays and relocation in judicial proceedings in San Luis Obispo County. Proceedings can now be conducted anywhere in the county, including correctional and juvenile detention facilities.

The California Supreme Court gave an additional 10 days from March 16 for the public to file papers at court facilities.

Proceedings involving minors are being given additional time. From March 16 through April 10, all days will be treated as holidays and will not count in the computation of time for custody, wardship and dependency proceedings.

An additional 30 days will be added to the duration of restraining orders and deadlines for starting civil and criminal trials.

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