The past two years have dramatically changed the legal practice, and some of those changes may be here to stay. At the beginning of the pandemic, many courts closed completely.[i] Now, court rules are in flux. Bench trials have been remote; jury trials have been hybrid; and court appearances have been conducted remotely via teleconference and video conference.[ii] While some of these changes are temporary adaptations, some are likely permanent. Attorneys should expect continued hearing and jury disruptions.
Since the start of the pandemic, hearings have been remote.[iii] In Arizona, nearly 20,000 meetings were hosted on Zoom over a one-year period.[iv] These hearings may continue to be hosted remotely. According to the Arizona Revised Statutes Annotated, pre-trial hearings must be in person “unless the court for a good reason allows a party to appear by telephone.”[v]
Over 50% of surveyed respondents wanted courts to continue to use technology for status conferences, pretrial motions, initial criminal appearances, and arraignments.[vi] With the court and attorneys rapidly adapting to Zoom and other online meeting platforms and technologies, it stands to reason that some hearings will continue to be held online even after the pandemic. Appearing remotely eliminates travel time, which can reduce legal fees for those with billable hours.
In person jury trials feel like a fundamental part of the justice system. However, courts have reported some success with remote jury selection.[vii] The Superior Court in Maricopa County plans to conduct a study on the advantages and disadvantages of remote jury selection for civil trials.[viii] Throughout the pandemic, as Maricopa County conducted remote jury selection and trials, they saw remarkable results:
23 percent of participants reported that their candor was somewhat or greatly increased by participating remotely rather than in person. Of those responding, 89 percent reported that it was very easy to stay attentive during selection. For those who participated in a remote trial, 100 percent reported it was easy to stay attentive during trial.[ix]
In summary, many of the changes we have seen in the courtroom as a result of the pandemic are here for the long-haul. Some have proven to be more efficient and beneficial for all parties. While jury trials and hearings may eventually return to something closer to “normal,” there will certainly be some permanent changes to the jury selection process.
[i] State court closures in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic between March and November 2020, BallotPedia, (Nov. 4, 2020), https://ballotpedia.org/State_court_closures_in_response_to_the_coronavirus_(COVID-19)_pandemic_between_March_and_November,_2020.
[ii] COVID-19 Latest Statewide Info, AZCourts, (n.d.), https://www.azcourts.gov/covid19/Info.
[iii] Chief Justice Robert M. Brutinel, THE COVID-19 CONTINUITY OF COURT OPERATIONS DURING A PUBLIC
HEALTH EMERGENCY WORKGROUP, American Bar Association, (June 2, 2021), https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/judicial/2021-az-post-pandemic-rec.pdf
[v] Rule 131. Pretrial Conference; Settlement Conference, AZ ST J CT RCP Rule 131.
[vi] Brutinel, supra note iii, at 16.
[vii] Id. at 27.
[ix] Id. at 27.