September 4, 2020

A New Normal?

It sure is nice to see down town restaurants back open and to be able to go camping in state parks again. However, COVID-19 precautions and social distancing are still in effect, and it appears we will be operating with those restrictions for months to come.

This is a real problem for those of us who practice in the courthouse. There is a tremendous backlog of cases. The criminal cases are particularly concerning given the Constitutional right to a speedy trial. Due to the economy shutting down, Colorado is facing a budgetary crisis. It is my understanding that the 4th JudicialDistrict (El Paso and Teller Counties) is facing a 20% cut in funding – right when we need to ramp up to handle the backlog of cases.

I have been conducting depositions and court hearings via Zoom and WebEx, and I suspect that is going to be a new normal for litigators for months to come. The judges are currently evaluating methods to move forward with trials while still taking appropriate COVID-19 precautions. One proposal is to conduct jury selection by video with the prospective jurors still at home. Then, only those actually selected for service on a jury would travel to the courthouse. I think this type of innovative approach to moving forward is something we litigators will be forced to adopt.

An interesting “trial by Zoom” recently occurred in Texas. The jurors stayed at home and watched the trial on Zoom. While it was a “summary jury trial” that lasted only one day and the result was non-binding, I expect we may see something like this come to the 4th Judicial District. I, for one, say we do what we have to do in order to get our cases moving forward.

Written by:

Jeffrey Weeks