ABA passes resolution on remote court proceedings

The American Bar Association House of Delegates has passed a resolution regarding the use of remote proceedings. The resolution attempts to balance the courts’ need to move forward with their dockets, parties’ entitlement to due process, and the public right to access. Some key points:

FURTHER RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association urges that any authorization of mandatory use of virtual and remote court proceedings during the COVID-19 pandemic continue for as short a time as possible and in no event longer than the duration of the declaration of emergency issued in the jurisdiction;

FURTHER RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association urges that use of virtual or remote court proceedings be permitted when litigants have consented to the use of such procedures, including being offered a delay until a safe, in-person proceeding can be held;

FURTHER RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association urges that all virtual or remote court proceedings be tailored to the needs of participants and take into account the type of case and proceeding to be conducted, the participants involved, and whether participants are likely to be represented by counsel…

FURTHER RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association urges that advance notice be provided to the public of all virtual or remote proceedings and that full and meaningful public access to such proceedings be guaranteed, while also protecting the privacy of those proceedings legally exempted from public access…

The entire resolution can be found here.

COVID-19 and the courts: Where we are and where we might be going

A glance at the recent developments, and what to look for in the future.

It has been about seven weeks since the coronavirus pandemic began to affect state and federal courts in the United States. At this point, it seems worthwhile to set out the ways in which courts have responded, both by adjusting their own operations and by reaching out to others in the external environment. We can also begin to consider which of the current changes might stick after the pandemic subsides.

Hearings and transparency. Many state court systems have proven remarkably agile at moving in-court proceedings to telephone and videoconference platforms. Both trial and appellate courts are now holding regular hearings via Zoom (although some lawyers apparently need a reminder about appropriate dress). At least one state court has even conducted a full bench trial by Zoom. The federal court system has also made impressive strides, albeit with a bit more reluctance. In late March, the Judicial Conference of the United States authorized the Chief Judge of each federal district court to permit selected criminal hearings within the district to proceed by videoconference. Federal appellate courts have also begun conducting criminal hearings by videoconference. And the United States Supreme Court announced that after a coronavirus-induced hiatus, it would hear a handful of regularly scheduled oral arguments by telephone beginning in May. Continue reading “COVID-19 and the courts: Where we are and where we might be going”

A renewed push for technological advances in state court systems

This week saw the formal announcement of two new efforts to modernize state court systems through technological improvements. The Pew Charitable Trusts announced an initiative, in partnership with the National Center for State Courts, American Bar Association, state court administrators, and private tech companies, to “modernize key aspects of the nation’s civil legal system and make it more accessible to the public.” Among the projects are developing more online tools for litigants and the public; using artificial intelligence to understand common language legal questions; and expanding online dispute resolution.

Separately, the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) released a new report entitled Eighteen Ways Courts Should Use Technology to Better Serve Their Customers. Among the report’s recommendations are:

  • Ensure court information and services are accessible through smartphones and ensure up-to-date wayfinding.
  • Allow court users to present photos, videos, and other information from their smartphones in court.
  • Enable court users to appear by telephone or video conference.
  • Facilitate easier scheduling of hearings using common digital calendar platforms.
  • Allow online payment of fees and other costs.
  • Create opportunities for users to access forms and other case-related information remotely and simplify the completion and filing of those forms, including electronic filing, and eliminate notarization requirements.
  • Deliver automated court messaging about upcoming hearings or missed events and allow that messaging to help guide users through the process.

Substantively, both projects are directly responsive to an increasing number of self-represented litigants who desperately need help navigating the legal process. In the spirit of this blog, the projects also demonstrate how the courts can partner with organizations in their immediate environment to improve their outreach and service.

Michael Reed on judicial independence: “an essential American value”

The latest essay in the ABA series on judicial independence comes from Pennsylvania attorney Michael Reed, who discusses efforts to remove or isolate judges for political reasons.  His short essay ranges from the Court-packing scheme of the 1930s to the current attempt to impeach justices in Pennsylvania.

White House withdraws two federal district court nominees

Two of President Trump’s nominees for federal district judgeships have been withdrawn.  Brett Talley, a nominee for the bench in Alabama, and Jeff Mateer, nominated for the bench in Texas, will not advance.

Talley drew particular criticism over the last several months for his personal conflicts and clear lack of qualifications. The 36-year-old Justice Department attorney has only practiced law for three years and has never tried a case — a monumental shortcoming for a trial court nominee. Talley also failed to disclose that he was married to a White House lawyer, or that he had previously made controversial statements about death row inmates. (Of less direct importance, but no less head-scratching, was the additional revelation that Talley is a “ghost hunter.”) The ABA rated him “unqualified.”

Separately, Mateer came under fire for his statements on homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and transgender children.

The withdrawals come on the heels of Senator Chuck Grassley’s recommendation that the White House “reconsider” both nominations.