Judge Emily Miskel from the 470th District Court in Collin County, Texas, was part of history on May 18, when she and Judge Keith Dean presided over the nation’s first-ever remote jury trial. Jurors, using cell phones, computer tablets and laptops, appeared from their home offices, living rooms and dining rooms. Judge Miskel oversaw the videoconferencing technology that allowed this remote trial to occur, moving jurors in and out of the virtual courtroom and waiting rooms, among other things.
“David Slayton, the administrative director of our Office of Court Administration, told me on April 19 that he wanted to try this, and he asked me to identify a pending case that I thought would work. Under normal circumstances, testing an online jury trial would have taken two years to go from the request to the execution, but we’ve all been forced to learn quickly. This would have never happened this quickly without the pandemic, but people – lawyers, judges, jurors – have been more flexible to use the technology.
“I was pleasantly surprised to learn how much the jurors liked this. They were enthusiastic about it. And jurors who had served on traditional juries in the past said there were things they preferred about remote jury service. They said it was more respectful of their time, and the witnesses and exhibits were easier to see. The jurors were more enthusiastically positive than any other group I’ve talked to, more so than attorneys and judges.
“Remote jury trials may have a future. We could also consider a hybrid approach to jury service during the pandemic. We may find that portions of a jury trial may be safer to do remotely than in a courtroom.
“We also may find that remote court proceedings play a role in access to justice. In Texas, we have rural counties where no attorneys happen to live – and I know that’s true in many other states – so this technology can play a role in connecting attorneys with people who need them.”