Judges Tell Congress Internet Video Will Make Courts More Accessible
WASHINGTON – Judges and lawmakers at a congressional hearing Thursday left little doubt that Internet video and teleconferencing will become permanent parts of court proceedings soon.
They described the emergency procedures instituted to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to transform the courts with greater public access.
“We must focus our resources on bringing justice to people where they live and where they work,” Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack said during a hearing of a House Judiciary subcommittee.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, approved by Congress in March, temporarily revamped procedures of federal, state and local courts.
To avoid spreading the virus, the law authorized courts to use closed circuit television and teleconferencing when they would not interfere with the administration of justice. It also appropriated $6 million to help federal courts with the transition, mostly for video equipment.
For the most part, the remote procedures referred to civil matters. Important criminal cases continued to be held in courthouses.
Some civil libertarians warned about possible violations of constitutional procedural due process rights.
Judges who testified at the House subcommittee on courts, intellectual property and the Internet Thursday said the forewarnings were wrong.
“Virtual courtrooms are making courts more accessible to the public,” McCormack said.
Streaming video and teleconferencing significantly increased participation by parties to legal actions, she said. It also reduced barriers to court proceedings, such as for disabled persons.
In addition, judges and lawyers were pleased with the new efficiencies that helped them complete cases more quickly, McCormack said.
She suggested that remote access was more likely to help the public overcome the intimidation they feel from courts.
“If they believe that we are operating fairly, that we’re listening, that we’re treating everybody with respect, they will have confidence in our outcomes,” she said.
Congress is considering three bills that would make remote access a permanent component of court proceedings.
One of them, called the Eyes on the Courts Act, was co-sponsored by Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, who is a member of the subcommittee. The bill would allow Internet streaming, photographing and broadcasting of court proceedings unless there was evidence the video would interfere with due process rights of a party.
“Most of our official acts can be reviewed by anyone, including judges,” Chabot said. The same should be true for courts, he added.
“It has been said that sunshine is the best disinfectant,” Chabot said.
Jeremy Fogel, a former U.S. District judge in California, recommended that Congress sponsor a study to determine best practices for remote access to the courts based on experience from the COVID-19 shutdown.
“All of that has given us information about how these processes actually work,” Fogel said.
Although the pandemic was unfortunate, it created a new opportunity for the legal system, he said.
“I don’t think we’re ever going back to where we were before,” Fogel said. “We have to anticipate a new normal.”
In The News
A ruling by Britain's top court last week that said Royal Dutch Shell oil company could be liable in English courts for pollution by its subsidiary in Nigeria, is likely to expand the company’s potential liability abroad. The court’s decision also creates a likelihood of liability... Read More
When Gwen Boyd-Willis was released from a Georgia women’s prison after a four-month sentence for fraudulently using an ATM card left in a machine, she faced new barriers to gaining employment and becoming a productive member of society. Candid with her mistakes, she wanted to make... Read More
CHICAGO — Even five decades later, former federal prosecutor Dick Schultz has a pretty good idea of when the legendary Chicago 7 trial started to go off the rails: during the testimony of the very first witness. That day in September 1969, U.S. District Judge Julius Hoffman halted the trial after he was informed... Read More
WASHINGTON — The federal courts want Congress to spend $524 million and pass legislation to bolster safety measures for judges at home and at the courthouse, including legislation to make it a crime for anyone to refuse a request to take down a judge’s personal information... Read More
OLYMPIA, Wash. — A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Postal Service to detail the number of mail-sorting machines and blue collection boxes that it slated for removal and provide other information about its recent changes to delivery in the run-up to a presidential election that... Read More
BOISE, Idaho — A federal judge in Idaho has issued a temporary injunction to keep the state from implementing a controversial law banning transgender girls and women from participating in women’s sports while a legal challenge moves forward. The ruling means that transgender athletes wanting to... Read More