Just like with many other facets of life, the COVID-19 pandemic has also had an impact on the Connecticut legal process and court system. In an effort to decrease the spread of the COVID-19 virus and continue to undergo court proceedings, Connecticut announced on June 4, 2020, that court proceedings, including those involving criminal, family, civil and juvenile matters, have changed from in-person hearings to remote. If you are currently involved in a legal case, it is critical to understand how virtual court hearings work during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, as many legal experts believe this can become a permanent staple in how the judicial system operates.
What is a Virtual Court Hearing?
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, court hearings were traditionally held in-person. In order to continue to efficiently process cases through the judicial system while remaining safe and reducing the risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus, court hearings are being held via video conference; the Connecticut Judicial System is using Microsoft® Teams for virtual proceedings and recently spent $2.8 million upgrading their technology systems to ensure a seamless transition. During a virtual court hearing, some participants may join from the courtroom while others join remotely, it just depends on the specific circumstances.
Conducting virtual court hearings helps keep continuity in the Connecticut judicial process so you are still able to file a personal injury claim and your existing claim is not jeopardized. Virtual court-side trials, for non-jury cases, can proceed in “virtual” court. And, importantly, the COVID-19 pandemic has not changed the fact that a majority of personal injury cases are settled outside of court, with approximately only 1 in 20 cases being resolved in court.
The Connecticut Judicial Branch is not entirely new to virtual hearings; before the pandemic, the Judicial Branch was already conducting some habeas, family and civil proceedings virtually.
What to Do If You Have a Virtual Court Hearing
A virtual court hearing is not optional, meaning that you are still required to attend and do not have the option to delay it until courts are open for in-person attendance. To join, you will need a computer or Internet-enabled mobile device. If you do not have either one of these devices to access the hearing, you must let the court know immediately so they can provide you with the necessary technology. Many courts have rooms specifically designed for this purpose called “remote rooms” which allow participants access to the virtual court.
It is not yet known when in-person jury trials will resume. The latest rise in COVID-19 cases in Connecticut has slowed down plans to slowly reopen in-person court services.
How to Make a Virtual Court Hearing Successful
As far as most areas of conduct, you should treat virtual court as you would a traditional court hearing. This means that you should formally address the courtroom, judge and other parties as if you were physically in the courtroom with them. In addition, you should dress as if you were going to an in-person courtroom as the judge, courtroom staff and parties will be able to see you on camera. However, you do not need to stand before the judge when he or she enters the virtual courtroom.
Choosing the right location is another important consideration for attending a virtual court hearing. Select a small room that contains some furnishings as that will help absorb any echoing on your part. Large, open rooms that contain a lot of hard surfaces, such as the kitchen, may create a distracting echo.
While virtual court may present some newfound challenges, it has also sparked new opportunities for the Connecticut court system to explore. One benefit that has perhaps come out of this situation is that remote court capabilities have created more availability in the schedule of expert witnesses, such as physicians and healthcare providers, to deliver their expertise to the court.
As always, the safety of our community is of top concern. We will continue to offer virtual consultations and meetings if you prefer to not conduct business in-person. If you’d rather meet in-person, we ensure that the office is cleaned and sanitized following the CDC’s latest recommendations.
If you or a loved one has been injured as a result of a motor vehicle accident, contact Robert L. Cavanaugh, Connecticut Personal Injury Attorney with more than 25 years of expertise, by clicking below or calling (203) 259-5400.