Zoom example

SHREVEPORT, La. -- As you've watched the news over the past few months, you no doubt have noticed a change in how the media interviews people. Sometimes the interviews are done via Zoom, Facetime or Skype to make sure everybody is safe and not spreading the coronavirus. Not reporting the news is not an option.

Area court systems have been slowed to a crawl because of the virus and now there's a push to get things cranking up again in a different venue.

"We're between a rock and a hard place when it comes to getting our justice system back up and running," said Quentin Brogdon, an attorney with Crain Brogdon Rogers, LLP.

That rock is COVID-19. The hard places are courthouses across the country. How do we get the wheels of justice moving again while keeping everybody as safe as possible from the virus?

"We need a way to restart jury trials. It's just not a long term solution to not hold them for several months on end," said Judge Emily Miskel, a district court judge in Collin County, Texas.

Court proceedings have started to happen on Zoom in some places. A preliminary trial for double murder in Wisconsin. A test of the video conferencing system being tried out in Florida. And, this is an insurance case in Texas.

With technology there's going to be hiccups, and those who've been on a Zoom call with multiple people know it can be challenging. But some attorneys see much more than technical issues as a hurdle when dealing out justice on a computer screen.

"It's not ultimately going to work. It's not sustainable. If I'm cross examining a witness, T.W., I want to see, what are they doing? Are they looking at the jury? Are they looking at the defendant? Are they looking down? The human component of it is largely lost in a zoom trial," said Royal Alexander, a constitutional attorney.

"You have to ask yourself whether you were charged with murder in a criminal case, or suing your doctor in a medical malpractice case, or suing the operator of an 18-wheeler who ran over and killed a member of your family ... whether you would want to do that online in a zoom trial? I think the answer for most of us would be no," said Brogdon, a fellow in the invitation-only International Academy of Trial Lawyers. 

But, the answer could be yes if, "I think online jury trials have a role to play to fill a stopgap, while the courts are shut down largely ... for the smaller cases and for cases where people agree to them," said Brogdon.

"If the parties accept Zoom, I think an appeals court would have a hard time reversing any of that," said Alexander.

So for now, the public shouldn't be surprised if the wheels of justice move a little differently.

Another issue Brogdon brought up is can you really get a representative jury on Zoom. Even in 2020 some people do not have or know how to use a computer or have internet access. That would automatically eliminate them from the jury pool.


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