Courts in the time of COVID-19

A history lesson in virtual jury trials 

Let the record show that history was made at 8 a.m. CDT Monday, May 18, 2020, in northeast Texas, where 26 potential jurors met in the comfort of their homes for the nation’s first-ever remote jury trial (pictured below), presided over by two judges, one of whom was making sure the technology worked the way it should.

“This is the first time this is happening in Texas and maybe the first time anywhere in the country,” Judge Emily Miskel, who was handling the technology, told the jurors, who logged in on cell phones and laptops. “Thank you to those who contacted the court to ask if this was a scam. . . . We sincerely thank you for giving this a try.” Read her story from inside the court.

In Indiana, Kathryn Dolan, Chief Public Information Officer for the Indiana Supreme Court and President of the Conference of Court Public Information Officers, moderated a virtual meeting with Lake County Judge Bruce Parent and two lawyers where they discussed their experiences after participating in one of the first jury trials with pandemic safety precautions in place.

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Zoom with a public virtual proceeding view

The Michigan Supreme Court has created a virtual directory for Michigan residents to find and stream local court proceedings throughout the state. Since the pandemic started, in-person court proceedings were limited to no more than 10 people, and local courts were given leeway to conduct proceedings remotely. According to the Michigan Supreme Court, nearly 1,000 judges and court officers now have Zoom licenses, and more than 750,000 hours of hearings have been conducted remotely since April 1.


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Six feet of separation at Cuyahoga County's Courthouse

By Ashley Monaco, Community Outreach Coordinator and  Public Information Officer for Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Court of Common Pleas

In the Old Courthouse Atrium at Cuyahoga County's Courthouse in Ohio, court employees have implemented strict safety procedures for its domestic relations and probate courts. As a person gets screened by the medical staff and passes through security, he/she is directed to the concierge desk. Next, staff members get the person's name and ask what his/her reason is for coming to the courthouse. Once staff obtains the information needed, the corresponding department is called and the individual is asked to wait in the atrium, where seats are positioned six-feet apart. When a staff member is ready to meet the guest, they notify the concierge desk and the individual is sent to the corresponding department.


How courts are keeping their rooms clean

Several courts have created public service announcements explaining what measures have been implemented to protect the health and safety of people who come to court.


An emotional message and the importance of privacy 

U.S. District Judge Esther Salas recently provided a video statement on the death of her son and the injuries to her husband caused by a gunman. About halfway through the video, Judge Salas makes a statement on the importance of judicial privacy protection. Watch the emotional message here.