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Courts transition from virtual to in-person

Column by Commissioner Cook

  • 20 May 2021
  • Author: Doris Sanchez
  • Number of views: 2867

They now have a carefully constructed plan that is built around pandemic precautions such as social distancing, masks, barriers and sanitation.

Courts were compelled to formulate a new ways of impaneling a prospective jury, selecting members of the jury for a particular trial, careful docket management and a reconfigured courtroom full of plexiglass.

Using a variety of virtual platforms, King has held many types of civil and criminal court hearings, allowing dockets to continue moving, reducing the jail population and allowing litigants in civil, family and criminal cases their day in court, while providing justice and resolution for crime victims.

Some of the limitations of the virtual realm include a lack of person-to-person interaction, hesitancy of some to speak up in larger groups (many can join virtually), people talking over one another and of course, the infamous, “You're on mute!”

A virtual platform, however, allows courts to convene at a moment’s notice, so decisions can be made quickly. It also allows for participants to appear from any location with an internet connection. This has reduced costs (in travel and time) for litigants, witnesses and lawyers.

Lawyers and judges are just like everyone else — creatures of habit — so it is sometimes hard to break with tradition, but judges like King have realized that continuing to use online platforms does make sense for some court business.

While the transition to virtual proceedings was difficult, now that they’ve been doing it for over a year everyone is pretty settled in, so transitioning back does have its challenges.

First, not everyone feels comfortable being back in large group settings. This is problematic as the courthouse has hundreds of visitors in addition to the hundreds of employees in the building daily.

Second, the convenience and efficiency of the virtual platform has proven to be a time- saver in certain aspects, therefore King and other judges are formulating a plan that maximizes the benefits of both in-person and virtual proceedings.

However, they must take into consideration those who lack internet access or reliable devices. For this reason, King has kept an in-person option even during the shutdown that allows people to participate virtually at the courtroom, still socially distanced and abiding by COVID protocols.

It is unlikely that court proceedings will be entirely the same as they were before the coronavirus. They will be more in-person than virtual; however, King is pleased to have that virtual option.

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