December 16, 2022

Virtual Courtrooms – Courtrooms After the Pandemic

The Covid pandemic has changed the way we do many things in the United States. The practice of law is one of them. At the beginning of the pandemic when people were in lockdown the courts recognized that courthouses are highly congested public places and as such could become breeding grounds for the virus. As a result, the Supreme Court of Michigan issued guidelines in conjunction with the Governor’s orders which created virtual courtrooms. With either the Zoom application or the Microsoft Teams application persons were instructed to tune in at a particular time to have their cases heard. At first, attorneys were zooming from their offices or their homes. The general public was zooming in from their homes or watching proceedings streamed live on YouTube. Even judges were conducting court virtually from their courtrooms or often their homes.

Remember: while the wheels of justice grind slowly, they must grind. In the criminal realm there are persons who are awaiting trial in jail. We must protect their rights and not allow them to languish in jail simply because it is inconvenient for the court to give them their day. For the first year of the pandemic almost everything was done remotely in the justice system. In the summer of 2021, many courts began conducting some proceedings live and in person. They used plexiglass barriers inside the courtroom to protect attorneys. Even jurors were divided up in honeycomb plexiglass chambers. The number of persons allowed in the courtroom was limited in order to allow social distancing. Everybody wore masks. The system was very cumbersome. I am of the opinion that we lost a great deal of the quality of justice that we had come to take for granted. Imagine trying to cross examine a witness remotely. I had a case once where I was asking a witness questions and noticed that he kept looking down before answering me. Not being physically in the courtroom I could not see what he was looking at. I asked him live “sir, what is it that you are looking at?” He responded, “one of the codefendants is texting me and I am reading his texts”. Can you imagine that? One defendant telling another defendant what to say while they are on the witness stand! I am happy to say that the courts are now conducting most testimonial hearings in person. Procedural appearances are taking place remotely. For example, on a speeding ticket I tune in by Zoom and speak to the city attorney or prosecutor on behalf of my client who seldom has to participate at all. I resolve the case for my client and the cases are resolved without a trip to court. As for more important hearings like preliminary examinations and trials, we are getting back in person. Trial work is about connecting with people. It’s about using persuasion to plead for my client. It involves “reading the room“. I have spent over 30 years perfecting the skill of “reading the room“ to become effective at what I do.