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The Courts and Covid - What’s Next

Categories: COVID

In short the answer is, who the hell knows? Unless you're a virologist, your guess is as good as everyone else's. But here's what we do know – in the six months since this jurisprudential lockdown started, the courts, for the most part, have not been reckless in their decisions that effect our health. In Bexar County, the dockets went virtual, the main jury room in the basement is silent, and the halls, otherwise swarming with suits, are empty. All of these changes were done in the name of public health. So now that kids are going back to school, what can we anticipate?

Well, where trial are concerned, there's still a pandemic going on and social distancing and conducting a trial is all but impossible under the old standards. Pre-pandemic in Bexar County, the grand jury room was loaded to the gills every morning with hundreds of summoned jurors waiting to be filtered to various courtrooms throughout the courts. Now, with social distancing standards, constant fever checks for prospective jurors that leave and enter the building, and an impending sense that at any moment a witness in any trial could feel a shortness of breath still makes for a very shaky confidence that trials will begin any time soon.

Are there ways around it? Can trials be conducted safely? Maybe. Maybe, we can pick a jury in the Alamodome (or its equal) where prospective jurors can space several feet apart. Maybe, the chosen jurors can occupy the benches in the courtroom rather than the jury box. Maybe the attorneys can operate behind spit guards while witnesses testify from sealed booths. Maybe such extreme measures can happen. Maybe tomorrow, a new study appears that shows that all of these measures are useless against this threat. However, even in these circumstance, no trials like this will happen with efficiency.

But what about the day-to-day operations of the court. Someone once said, "Necessity is the mother of invention." That seems pretty true with the innovations we've seen in the previous months. Now, attorneys are able to confer with prosecutors at any point over FaceTime or Zoom. Plea paperwork is signed and shifted back and forth on Adobe formats. Pleas before a judge and court reporter are held online with the option for public viewing on YouTube. These innovations, now that they're here, may never go away. Now, attorneys may be able to work with their clients from different parts of the world. Clients who used to have to drive hundreds of miles every couple of months for their day in court can do it from their living rooms. It's tough to find a silver lining to the times were living in right now, but this should be considered as one of them at the end of the day.

But I return to the first answer that I gave to the question of "What's next?" The answer is the same: Who the hell knows?

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