Judges Tell Congress Internet Video Will Make Courts More Accessible

June 25, 2020 by Tom Ramstack
The empty courtroom is seen at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

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

Health

Voting

Courts

First Slate of Biden Judicial Nominees is Diversity Personified
Courts
First Slate of Biden Judicial Nominees is Diversity Personified
March 30, 2021
by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON - President Joe Biden’s first slate of judicial nominees is a marked departure from the mostly white and mostly male picks of the Trump years. In all, Biden named 11 individuals he’d like to see on the bench, 10 to serve either as Federal  Circuit... Read More

Pre-Trial Reforms Struggle to Balance Rights of Defendants and Crime Victims
Courts
Pre-Trial Reforms Struggle to Balance Rights of Defendants and Crime Victims
March 26, 2021
by Tom Ramstack

WASHINGTON -- As Congress struggled Friday to find the fine line between protecting crime victims and suspects in pre-trial proceedings, federal prosecutors were trying to recover from an embarrassing blunder. In both cases, the federal government seeks to eliminate stumbling blocks to fair trials. At a... Read More

Kansas Welcomes First Woman of Color to Appellate Court Bench
In The States
Kansas Welcomes First Woman of Color to Appellate Court Bench
March 24, 2021
by TWN Staff

The Kansas Senate has confirmed two women to serve on the state's court of appeals, including the first woman of color to serve in that position. In doing so, the Senate took steps to assure itself neither woman would be an "activist" intent on "legislating" from... Read More

British Court Ruling Against Oil Company Could Expand Liability for Foreign Accidents
Energy
British Court Ruling Against Oil Company Could Expand Liability for Foreign Accidents
February 19, 2021
by Tom Ramstack

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

Corporate Pro Bono Initiatives Deliver Legal Aid to Those Who Need It Most
Business
Corporate Pro Bono Initiatives Deliver Legal Aid to Those Who Need It Most
October 27, 2020
by Sean Trambley

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 7 Prosecutor: 'They Were Going to Try to Destroy Our Trial. And They Did a Damn Good Job'
Civil Rights
Chicago 7 Prosecutor: 'They Were Going to Try to Destroy Our Trial. And They Did a Damn Good Job'

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

News From The Well
scroll top