Justice by remote: Local courts adapt and continue operating

Published: Apr. 13, 2020 at 5:04 PM PDT
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In normal times our courthouses are busy places.

High profile events like jury trials are only a small fraction of the activity. Any day here includes all sorts of criminal and civil hearings, legal filings, research in the county law library and, of course, the work of our family courts.

None of that seems possible in a time of social distancing and, in fact at the moment would be dangerous. At least one employee has tested positive.

So, today the courthouses are closed. But the courts are still operating.

Chief Judge Scott Freeman says the virus hasn't stopped the court's work. "We're just doing it differently."

He was telling us this by remote using the internet program Zoom. It was my first experience, but the judge is an old hand by now because it's a key piece of how the courts have adapted.

And it's allowed cases to be heard remotely. Everyone, the judge, attorneys, defendants, even the court reporter joining in online from different locations. "Something that's never been seen before," Judge Freeman notes.

One thing that's not possible at the moment--jury trials.

Freeman points out even the process of selecting a jury is impossible with social distancing, not to mention the trial itself with jurors sitting next to each other, twelve people retiring to the jury room. Besides he notes, jurors need to see evidence and witnesses first hand.

So, jury trials are on hold, which will eventually create a backlog to be dealt with. It will be much the same across the country, Freeman says. But it will be dealt with when possible.

In the meantime, he says he's proud of how everyone has adapted to the new normal, and says local courts are ahead of the curve in keeping the wheels of justice moving.

"The public should know our courts are moving forward, adapting as we move."

Copyright KOLO-TV 2020