National poll: Public warming to idea of remote court appearances



National poll: Public warming to idea of remote court appearances

Nearly two out of three people would be receptive to appearing in courtrooms remotely – a significant increase from just six years ago, when two out of five said they were receptive.

This finding, from a new national poll conducted for NCSC, reflects the public’s growing comfort level with technology and its discomfort with being in close proximity to others during the coronavirus pandemic.

Some of the results, which came from 1,000 registered voters who were polled from June 8-11, “reflect the degree of uncertainty and anxiety” that comes with living during a pandemic, said Jesse Rutledge, NCSC’s vice president for External Affairs.

As state courts try to figure out the best way to safely resume jury trials, the poll, called State of the State Courts in a (Post) Pandemic World, largely focuses on the public’s feelings about serving on juries and being in courthouses.

In a question about whether respondents would be more comfortable serving on juries in person or remotely, 44 percent said remotely, 32 percent expressed no preference, and 23 percent said in person.

The most reluctant jurors tend to be young black and Hispanic women and older white women while the most receptive jurors are younger white males, especially blue-collar workers who identify as politically conservative, said Karl Agne, the founding partner of GBAO Research + Strategy, the polling company.

Court officials say they are worried that the reluctance of certain groups to serve on juries will make it more difficult to assemble diverse juries – a challenging task in many places even before the pandemic.

“I don’t want our jury pools to skew one way or the other,” said Nicole Zoe Garcia, jury administrator in Maricopa County, Ariz., who recently learned of the poll results. “That really does concern me.”

About two-thirds of respondents said they think courts should require people to wear masks in courthouses, and at least 70 percent said they would be more comfortable in a courthouse if courts enforced social distancing, checked temperatures at the door, required court employees and visitors to wear masks and tested for Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

“What stands out to me is that there are set expectations that the public has that we’re going to take some action to protect their health and safety,” said David Slayton, administrative director of the Texas Office of Court Administration. “It’s incumbent upon us to do a really good job of communicating with them that we’re going to take care of them.”

NCSC has been commissioning State of the State Court polls since 2014. Go here to see poll results from any year since then.

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National Judicial Task Force to examine state courts’ response to mental illness

CCJ and COSCA have created a mental health task force to improve how state courts respond to people with serious mental illnesses. The task force transitions the work of the National Initiative Advisory Committee, created in 2019 with a three-year State Justice Institute grant to NCSC. In May, CCJ and COSCA established the task force to assume leadership of the remaining two-years of the project. Vermont Chief Justice Paul L. Reiber and New York Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks have been named co-chairs.

The Advisory Committee recognized that transitioning to a national task force would create greater structure, attention, and focus to the work necessary to prompt changes to state court policies and practices that will lead to more fair and timely justice for court-involved individuals with serious mental illness, according to a recently released report on the first year of the project.

The task force’s immediate focus is to develop resources for courts about procedures and best practices during the pandemic in civil and criminal cases involving people with mental illness.