Editor's Page.

AuthorParkerson, Christopher B.

The news on the COVID-19 front has not been great over the past few months and courts around the country are once again postponing jury trials and going back to remote hearings and conferences. This is a prudent and necessary course of action because it protects the health and safety of court personnel, lawyers, parties, and jurors. While the safeguards being put in place are important, they must be as temporary as possible to accomplish the goals of safety while still allowing access to justice as well as the formal setting of appearing in a courtroom in front of a judge. Appearances in court via Zoom or Teams is fine for a temporary band-aid while science and health policy catch up to some of the unknowns of COVID-19, but there needs to be some urgency in getting back to business as usual in courthouses- even if that business requires additional safeguards and procedures.

We have all seen the viral videos of lawyers and witnesses making errors during remote hearings, conferences, or depositions. These are funny, but the laughs mask a problem in making sure courts do their job of getting to the truth. There are almost always issues with technology: a participant is on mute, a participant's computer reboots during the hearing, or there is significant lag such that a participant cannot keep up with the back and forth of a hearing. These are relatively minor issues. A more serious issue is one I confront regularly where a witness testifying via iPhone is being asked to identify elements on a photograph and they either cannot see the photograph or don't know how to zoom in such that details of the photograph can be closely examined. This and similar issues like interruptions of phone calls, disruptions from others in the same room, and the inability to properly see or hear a witness or other lawyer makes a lawyer's job of assessing the quality of a witness or testimony more difficult than simply looking across a conference room table. Although I have not seen data on this issue, I believe a witness taking an oath over Zoom and testifying from his or her couch doesn't take a deposition as seriously as someone asked to appear in a courtroom or conference room. I also believe that a party appearing in Court in front of a Judge has more respect for the procedure than someone sitting behind the wheel of their car watching proceedings on a laptop.

Why does this matter? Of course, there are constitutional issues that are critical to the...

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