Are Zoom Court Hearings the 'New Normal' in Texas?

An excerpt from the State Bar of Texas Podcast.

The State Bar of Texas Podcast is produced with the Legal Talk Network. To listen, go to texasbar.com/podcast.

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As courthouses closed in March and Texans started sheltering in place to avoid the coronavirus outbreak, the Office of Court Administration was busy rolling out videoconference technology to judges across the state. Seemingly overnight, proceedings were being held using Zoom with livestreams on YouTube as the judiciary worked to maintain public access to the courts while keeping participants safely apart.

Less than six weeks after the Zoom rollout on March 24, Texas courts had conducted more than 40,000 remote hearings with over 180,000 participants, said David Slayton, administrative director of the Office of Court Administration. “We have … over 60,000 hours of [remote] hearings,” Slayton said on the May episode of the State Bar of Texas Podcast. “It’s really just remarkable.”

Host Rocky Dhir spoke with Slayton soon after his office announced guidance for Texas courts to begin resuming nonessential, in-person hearings starting June 1. In this podcast excerpt, Slayton discusses whether technology rolled out during the COVID-19 crisis will be part of post-pandemic life. To hear the full episode, go to texasbar.com/podcast.

Slayton: After June 1, we’re still going to be seeing remote proceedings being used that way. But even long term, I think we could see some courts using these types of remote proceedings, because I think the judges, the attorneys, the litigants, everyone has really seen the value … at least in some cases and some matters, in being able to do that remotely. So I think it’s here to stay.

Dhir: Aside from Zoom, are there other technology tools or even non-technology tools that the courts are using to adapt to this new normal?

Slayton: Our platform allows people to appear by telephone, so we have folks who don’t have maybe the same level of access to technology who are still able to appear that way. Think about it, when everybody is remote, how do you deal with evidence, which used to be handed over in the courtroom? And so the courts have learned how to be able to get the evidence, whether that’s through having the parties or attorneys email it to them in advance or upload it to a Dropbox or Google Drive or Box or one of those types of technologies. Those have all been used.

And then the other one, probably one of the most interesting ones, I think, and quite frankly more difficult for judges to get used to, is the public has a right to observe court proceedings and almost every type of proceeding. So whenever you’re doing everything remotely or the judge is in the courtroom, everybody is remote but no member of the public can come to the courthouse, then we have to provide a way for the public to watch it. And so we’ve been streaming our court proceedings live on YouTube so the public has had a view into the courthouse that they probably never had before. It is really real court TV. TBJ

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