What will be the “new normal” for the court system after the State reopens? Social distancing will be part of the ”new normal” for a long time. People will be wearing masks for a long time. People will be wearing gloves for a long time. People will be sanitizing court facilities for a long time. So how will these changes impact a court environment which is founded on transparency and openness? And how will they impact our entire Judicial System that is the cornerstone of our democracy and the foundation of all our freedoms?
In order for people to have confidence in the Rule of Law, the courts need to be open to the public. Yes, the Courts are going to have to adapt to this “new normal” for the sake of society.
But even before the pandemic, there were signs that change was in the air. For example, there was a hue and cry that litigation was too expensive. One of the silver linings of the “new normal” might well be a reduction of the cost of litigation.
I see a future where attorneys will be spending less time traveling to court to argue motions, attend pretrials, mediations, or status conferences. Attendance at Short Calendar will be a thing of the past. Video Conference platforms will allow attorneys to remain in their offices and still be “present” virtually, in court.
Every courthouse already has video conference capabilities, presently used to allow incarcerated litigants to appear in court without having to be transported. Imagine every courtroom with the same capability.
Instead of making an attorney travel hours to make a 10 minute argument, the attorneys will make their arguments in open court via video. To ensure the integrity of our Judicial System, the argument would be visible to the public, either in person, by viewing the monitor behind the Judge or by a video recording of the proceedings.
The future, as it turns out, is actually, now. As I write this article, the Judicial Branch has sent out two notifications: the first states, “Effective the week of May 11, 2020, family pretrials and status conferences will be held telephonically” through an online platform; the second states, “Effective May 18, the Judicial Branch will resume its daily schedule of civil pre-trials, trial management conferences, and status conferences. These events will be conducted remotely, either by video link or telephone.”
Arguments on motions and Bench Trials will not be far behind. The logistics for Jury Trials will be more difficult, but not insurmountable. The “New Normal” will be both effective and afford cost savings to litigants.
The world is changing by the minute. I suspect, by the time you read this article, the Judicial Branch will be making more progress and conducting more activities remotely. These changes were coming anyway, but the pandemic has made the future now!