Remote hearings: Judges discuss the good and the bad
Eighteen months into the coronavirus pandemic is a good time to reflect on the pros and cons of remote hearings and ask these questions: Which hearings should always be remote? Which should never be remote? What are the biggest challenges these hearings present? How is procedural fairness ensured, given the digital divide?
These are some of the questions that were asked and answered late last week at the first of five webinars on remote hearings presented by the Pandemic Rapid Response Team’s Implementation Lab. The answers came from New Mexico Supreme Court Justice C. Shannon Bacon and Arizona Court of Appeals Judge Samuel Thumma. Watch the full recording.
Which hearings should always be remote?
“Discovery disputes,” said Justice Bacon. “It’s just two lawyers making their best pitch to the judge, and it doesn’t require client participation. …I was a trial court judge for 10 years and discovery disputes are perfect for Brady Bunch boxes.”
She and Judge Thumma said scheduling conferences also are perfect for remote hearings.
Which should never be remote?
Both said criminal and civil jury trials lend themselves to in-person hearings. Bacon added that in New Mexico, certain criminal proceedings, including plea and sentencing hearings, are always conducted in person, as are hearings for orders of protection, adult guardianship and conservatorships and termination of parental rights.
Which is better – video or phone?
“I like being able to see people,” Judge Thumma said. “Visual clues help a lot.”
“Most judges I talk with prefer video,” Justice Bacon said. “They like the control it gives them over certain litigants. They’ve come to embrace the use of the mute button.”
With so many hybrid hearings –people making appearances in person and by video and phone – what do judges need to know?
“Patience, patience, patience,” Justice Bacon said. “The phone adds an interesting element. Sometimes it can be easy to forget that someone is appearing that way.”
Thumma pointed out that lawyers and others have appeared at hearings via phone for several years, but there’s a different dynamic now with video, in-person and phone.
Given the digital divide, how do judges incorporate procedural fairness?
Judge Thumma said judges must first accept that the digital divide exists. Both judges said in Arizona and New Mexico, there are vast Native American lands without high-speed internet. They said computers at public libraries should be made available to those who would rather attend remote hearings but lack computers or smart phones.
NCSC Vice President of Court Consulting Services David Slayton said Texas, where he was state court administrator, identified two significant benefits to conducting remote jury selection proceedings: Appearance rates dramatically increased, as did the number of Black jurors.
“We asked potential jurors about access to technology and provided iPads to people without it,” he said.
The next webinar on remote hearings will occur at 3 p.m. ET Thursday Oct. 21.
New dashboard showcases Caribbean anti-crime achievements
A new dashboard, created by NCSC, showcases the achievements of the Caribbean Anti-Crime (CAC) Program, which has strengthened the capacity of institutions to combat financial crimes in eight countries throughout the Caribbean.
The program, which NCSC directs, seeks to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the criminal justice sector, dismantle criminal financial networks, strengthen prosecutorial capacity and enhance citizen security.
The dashboard highlights all stages of the reform cycle -- from legislation to prosecutions to assets frozen to convictions. The countries in the program include Antigua & Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Vincent & the Grenadines and Trinidad & Tobago.
CAC is funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.
For additional information, refer to the program website.