Providing technology to litigants who don’t have access to it


Travis County

Providing technology to litigants who don’t have access to it

In a world where social distancing has proven effective at stalling the spread of COVID-19, state courts have increasingly turned to videoconferencing to conduct hearings and trials that judges deem must be held remotely—but what to do for litigants who don’t have access to videoconferencing technology? One answer is to give them a place to go where they can have access to it.

These videoconferencing kiosks are public computer centers that have surfaced, albeit sporadically, in four states—Texas, Idaho, Illinois, and Iowa—and many of those who work to provide access to justice say we should expect to see more of these as state courts ramp up their hearing schedules.

“I think the kiosks are a wave of the future, and a sign of something proactive,” said Danielle Hirsch, a principal court management consultant who leads NCSC’s Justice for All initiative.

One of these computer kiosk stations is in the criminal courthouse in Travis County, Texas, where defendants charged with misdemeanor crimes can use a computer in a private room to connect to their hearings. If they need help, court employees can assist them, and staggered schedules help them maintain social distancing from other defendants.

Court officials in Harris County (Houston) have said they are considering creating these stations.

Outside Texas, court officials in Lake County, Illinois, have set aside a computer in the law library for litigants who don’t have access to videoconferencing technology.

Other courts are intentionally placing these computer kiosks in places other than courthouses. In Idaho, state court employees are partnering with officials at public libraries and social service organizations to determine the best locations for the kiosks. Hirsch said Iowa is also exploring options for these kiosks in the community.

She said she hopes to make this topic a subject of Tiny Chats, brief videos that highlight issues relating to access to justice and court operations. Subscribe here.

What’s more, Hirsch, who serves as the lead NCSC staffer on the Pandemic Rapid Response Team’s technology committee, said the committee has plans to write a paper and host a webinar on this topic this summer.

New webinar examines public attitudes toward remote jury service and court services

Join NCSC and CCJ-COSCA’s Pandemic Rapid Response Team for Jury Service and Accessing Court Services Remotely in a (Post) Pandemic America: Results from a New National Public Opinion Poll. This new webinar on Thursday, June 18, at 1:00 PM EST, will review shifting attitudes toward the use of remote technology to receive court services; address findings about how many Americans say they have access to the tools to use those remote services; provide data on how safe people feel about reporting for jury service; and review how effective Americans think masks, social distancing, and other protective measures will be in making sure a trip to the courthouse is a safe experience. Register for the webinar here. For more information, email Nora Sydow.