Schools are closed. Social distancing and shelter in place are becoming surprisingly “somewhat” more normal. Our everyday lives have changed and those changes extend to the courtroom.
So, what has changed for the courts? A lot, but it’s all to help protect legal professionals, according to Hon. Joy Conti, Sr. District Judge of the Western District of Pennsylvania. Judge Conti laid out a laundry list of changes she’s seen in the prior few weeks:
“Judges in my court have postponed all trials for at least 45 days. We do not want to expose jurors, lawyers, parties or court staff to risks. All civil proceedings are being handled by conference calls. Any matter which requires an evidentiary hearing will be postponed or handled by a video conference. We have mediations being conducted using Zoom. We have granted all staff, except for a skeleton crew, the opportunity to work from home. We are all hoping these measures will protect our courthouse users and staff from exposure to the virus. We are hopeful that this crisis will pass in the near future and that we can avoid further disruption to our judicial system.”
Thankfully, some courts have recently been taking it upon themselves to ensure we aren’t stuck with a system that doesn’t empower parties to work together even with it’s done remote. Hon. Kimberly Johnson, U.S. Magistrate Judge from the Eastern District of Texas credits the acceptance of technology as the reason why the courts haven’t come to standstill stating:
“By leveraging today’s technological resources, judges and court personnel alike continue administering justice, albeit remotely, issuing opinions, conducting hearings by phone and/or videoconference, and collaborating with counsel to navigate the novel issues affecting case management during these uncertain times.”
Hon. Xavier Rodriguez, U.S. District Judge from the Western District of Texas, describes in more detail the interworkings of how parties will function with courts in this post Coronavirus world:
“For the last six months or so, I have been transitioning to a “paperless” office. So, my adjustment has been a bit easier as me and my law clerks now “telework.” We log into the court network (two-factor authentication required), view all documents filed in the CM/ECF system, and communicate through either email, Skype or OneNote. Once an order is ready to file I electronically transmit the document to the Clerk’s office and it is put into the que for docketing (docket clerks are also teleworking). For simple orders, I have the ability to “gavel” a short ruling with a one or two sentence explanation directly from CM/ECF. Hearings on civil motions are going to be done telephonically or via Zoom (or similar platform) for awhile. I am relying upon the attorneys to set up the platform, as we do not have an account.”
No more in-person hearings, scheduling confers, or meet-and-confers—at least for the foreseeable future. The Judicial system has truly moved to an “e-court” world, similar to what happened with changes to discovery when electronical stored information (ESI) came into existence. If you’re curious how judges would like you to work with the court within the e-discovery process, I invite you to check out this report.
Stay healthy, stay safe, and this too shall pass.