Behind a well-functioning court system is an Office of Court Administration that ensures technology and processes are rightly placed. In this episode, Todd Smith and Jody Sanders interview the Administrative Director of the Texas Office of Court Administration, David Slayton, about how OCA supports Texas courts and helps streamline appellate practice. He shares with us the technology OCA uses to facilitate the courts’ work and provide a statewide platform for searching and monitoring cases. Addressing the current COVID-19 situation, David then shares how OCA has implemented remote technology to keep courts open and help maintain certainty in these uncertain times.

Listen to the podcast here:

Providing Access to Courts Through Remote Technology in These Uncertain Times | David Slayton

We have with us the Administrative Director of the Office of Court Administration, David Slayton. David is a popular figure in Texas legal circles these days. We’re looking forward to visiting with you, David, and having you tell us what you’re up to.

Thanks. I’m glad to be with you. I’m looking forward to chatting.

Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background and what you did before you joined OCA?

I got my start in the court system, like many people who work for courts, which was by accident. I started working, needed a job during college and started filing documents in the basement of a courthouse in Lubbock County when I was a Red Raider. I worked my way through the system there, became a court clerk for a judge and went to federal court for a few years. I worked in federal court in Lubbock as well as in Dallas. I was managing a couple of sections of the Dallas Clerk’s Office, Federal Clerk’s Office. Back to Lubbock, I was a court administrator there for eight years. I’ve been here at the Office of Court Administration as the Administrative Director for the past 8 years, anniversary was just last week.

Happy anniversary. You go years hearing about the OCA, but you don’t know that much about it other than statistics. In about the last few months, I’ve heard more about OCA than I have the entire time I’ve been licensed.

We’ve been more involved than we normally are. We normally like to play a nice quiet role behind the scenes. This pandemic has certainly put us out front a little more. We’ve been happy to play the role of support and assistance where we can. Hopefully, we’ve done a good job. We hope to keep doing a good job to the degree we can.

Can you explain a little bit about what OCA does? It’s one of those things that I know about, but I would like to hear a better description from you.

OCA was formed in 1977. It’s a judicial branch agency created by the legislature. There are some papers that I found in my office from a chief justice at the time where he was begging the legislature for a judicial branch agency to assist the Supreme Court in the administration of the courts. The court has a busy job handling cases, writing the rules, dealing with things, but all the other stuff that goes on day-to-day with the courts is a challenge for them. Whether its collecting statistics, trying to look at the trends, what’s going on with the courts, making policy recommendations and providing technology.

We provide the technology for all of the appellate courts, some of the technology for the trial courts and all the judicial branch agencies, to budget issues, to being the face of the branch to the legislature. All of those are things we do. We work with the Texas Judicial Council. I’m the Executive Director of the Judicial Council as well in my role as Director of OCA. We advocate for policy changes with the legislature. That’s the bottom line of what we do. It’s a broad mission. Everything we can do to help the court with the administration of the courts.

Some trial courts have a little different systems. Are we talking about the case management systems that are administered on the local level?

This is changing but up until now, every court clerk in each county has the option of choosing what, their commissioner’s court, of choosing a case management system. We have some courts that have sophisticated case management systems and some of them that have none at all. They provide that, but we have to work with them to interact with the eFiling system and other things. This last legislative session, we were provided funding to provide a case management system that’s targeted to the counties under 20,000 population, which is 130 of the counties, over half the state’s counties. It’s not really mandatory, but we’re going to make it available to them. Our goal is to have a robust case management system that will serve their needs and hopefully serve the needs of the Bar and the public better.

It's a good thing if the public sees the work of its courts. Click To Tweet

You mentioned working with the appellate courts, too. That’s where I know you from. I see your name in connection with one of our other previous guests, Blake Hawthorne, a lot. You are both great about being public-facing in your jobs and people can figure out quickly what OCA is and what you do by watching you online. Blake is excellent at that, too. Jody and I are both appellate lawyers and that’s our focus. We happen to see you in that capacity more. Is your role different when it comes to dealing with the appellate courts and supporting them?

The OCA, overall, provides more support for the appellate courts. There are over 3,000 judges at the trial court level so dealing with the 98 appellate court judges and justices is a little more manageable. We’re providing the front level support to their computers on their desktop to their case management system to helping them with legislative stuff. Keeping them informed about what’s going on. We staff their council of chief justices where all the chiefs get together and discuss issues, providing the TAMES system for all the appellate courts. Our level of interaction is more with the appellate courts than with the trial courts on a day-to-day basis. It’s a little easier to have that more in-depth interaction with them because there are fewer of them.

Thank you for all you do with the TAMES system because that makes our jobs much easier to be able to access all that stuff online, get to it and pull it up. It has streamlined appellate practice in a significant way.

All the clerks of all the appellate courts, as well as the justices, they’re always trying to be forward-thinking. We want to support that as much as we can and be as forward-thinking with them and try to think about how we can make not only the internal users but primarily the external users. You all as appellate lawyers, the litigants and the public, how can we make that as simple and streamlined as we can for them as they interact with appellate courts? It’s always a focus of ours to try to think through those things and make those improvements where we can.

It’s nice to be able to pull up all the briefing in a particular case and all that and not have to go through potentially 254 different systems to get to it and have a standardized platform across the whole state for all the courts and the Supreme Court.

I agree. The practice has changed immensely in the last several years. In talking with Blake before, we attributed all to the advent of mandatory electronic filing. And now, in the situation we’re all in, we’re pretty much working from home. That turned out in hindsight to be a tremendous development because we’re working from home and not missing a beat.

It’s interesting because I texted Chief Justice Jefferson, who was the chief at the time that mandatory eFiling went into effect. He always tells everybody the story what’s funny about that ordering is, the day that order was signed, mandating eFiling, was the anniversary of the day I started filing documents in the basement of the Lubbock County Courthouse. I felt like that was maybe fate was sending me a message that no more paper, whether it’s Hurricane Harvey or this pandemic. The Texas court system has not shut down. It’s unfortunate, but New York’s court system stopped filing. They have not been filing cases in two months. They do not permit filing except for emergency matters. They’ve not been able to hold hearings over the past few months except for emergency matters. One of the things that we should be proud of is the fact that those steps that we started taking many years ago have laid the foundation for us to be able to continue to operate at a level that I don’t think any other state is operating at.

Not to say that we’re operating and functioning as well as we would like to be, but it’s certainly in a way that had we not had electronic filing, some of the things we’ve done over the past 8-10, 12 years, we wouldn’t miss. In 2012, whenever the mandate came down, I remember being in a conference with the justices of the court and saying, “Is everybody okay signing this mandatory electronic filing?” That was a big step back then if you think about it. I remember there was some uncertainty and for the most part, I thought about it and said, “This is the right thing to do. Let’s do it.” Looking back, I can’t imagine where we would be if we hadn’t done that 10 years ago.

There are some statistics about the number of remote proceedings that we’ve been able to have as a result of that. Do you have those with you?

That’s the other interesting thing is the Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals on the first day they were given the emergency powers under this pandemic, which is the same day the governor declared a disaster. The statute gives the Supreme Court that authority off that declaration, March 13th, they entered an order permitting, and actually requiring in certain situations, remote proceedings. Over that weekend we tried to explore, what the options we could use to do this are? We came up with the platform we ended up choosing.

The next week we got about twenty licenses. We already had an account. We got twenty more licenses and asked twenty judges across the state, “Try this out, see what you think. See how it goes.” By the end of the week, they were saying, “This is wonderful.” That Friday, one week after the court signed the order, we had a webinar with the judges to say, “Here’s how you can use Zoom to do remote proceedings. Here’s where you go to sign up.” That next Monday, we started signing people up. Tuesday, March 24 is the day we started having virtual and remote proceedings through Zoom.

We’ve got over 1,400 judges with accounts on the system. In over the six weeks since we did that, there have been 17,000 separate meetings. We estimate conservatively that each one of those had 3 to 4 hearings in them. I know sometimes you’re having 50 to 80 hearings in one meeting like a big docket of criminal pleas or appearances or whatever. Probably somewhere over 60,000 hearings in the last 6 weeks over that. Those numbers keep going up. Last week were averaging over 750 meetings a day. It’s remarkable about the fact that the judges were quick to embrace that from the two high courts saying we’re going to embrace the remote technology.

TALP 12 | Remote Technology

Remote Technology: This time is bringing a lot of uncertainty and instability to people’s lives. The courts are not going to be one of those things that are uncertain or unstable at this time.

 

We’re going to allow you to do it without the participant’s consent so we can keep the justice system moving. There was a conversation at the highest levels of the court saying, “This time is bringing a lot of uncertainty and instability to people’s lives. The courts are not going to be one of those things that are uncertain or unstable at this time. We’re going to be here to be able to resolve disputes in the best way we can and try to keep going forward. For the most part, we’ve done that. We’ve not been able to handle everything. Jury trials being a big one that we’ve not been able to do. We’ve handled every other type of proceeding through remote technology, trials, oral arguments, whatever it may be. It’s all happened remotely during this time when, quite frankly, if we didn’t have the technology in place, we’d be at a standstill like some of the other states.

A real testament to forward-thinking and planning long before this that put these things in place.

One other stat I should mention, I didn’t say this, but the other exciting thing is that we’ve had 214,000 participants in those proceedings. It’s been broad. We’ve been able to get people from all across the state able to participate, and be able to have their day in court. We could have done something other states have done and said, “We’re only going to do emergency or essential matters.” We could have done that. I keep saying to the people who have cases in our court systems, it doesn’t matter what we classify it as. To them, it’s essential and emergency. Whether it’s that adoption of that child that maybe it wouldn’t have happened for months because that probably would not be deemed an essential matter and an emergency matter.

It would have had to wait for who knows how long at this point. If it’s the divorce proceeding where the kids can know who’s going to have custody or visitation. The criminal defendant who’s in jail, a criminal defendant on bond who wants to get the case resolved or victims who’re waiting for that case to be resolved. All those things have happened as they would have in the old days. The other interesting thing is 17,000 separate meetings and the most any single judge has had is 250. If you think about that, it’s widespread usage across the state. We’re pleased with the work that the courts have done over the last couple of weeks. The people in Texas should be proud of the work that their judges have done.

My other favorite thing about all this is the fact that all the courts now have YouTube channels. I can watch hearings of any kind anywhere across the state. I hope that sticks around afterward because I love it, to be able to tune into these courts wherever and see what’s going on.

It’s interesting because as Director of OCA, I don’t get to go in the courtroom much anymore. When I was in Lubbock, I was there with the judges and a couple of associate judges so I could walk in and listen and see what’s going on. Since I’ve been here, I’ve been in a couple of courtrooms as I travel and things. For the most part, I don’t see the judges. It’s been interesting. The other thing that’s interesting is it gives the citizens of Texas who generally don’t know anything about their court system and are certainly ill-informed, the ability to see justice in a way that they wouldn’t otherwise see.

You can log onto a court hearing. Earlier this week over 600 people were watching the Supreme Court’s oral argument. Their last oral argument had, at one point, 1,200 people on it watching. The court has been streaming its oral arguments for some time. We’ve never had that level of interest. It’s because people know it’s out there and they can find it easily on the YouTube channel. It’s a good thing if the public sees the work of its courts. We’ll see what stays around and what doesn’t. We can talk more about them. I’ve been saying my hashtag is #NotGoingBack.

Anyone who’s reading this show knows that we’re generally advocates of using technology, delivery of legal services and particularly concerning courts and filings. I certainly hope that we don’t go back. It’s interesting because I’m in conversation with some of our local judiciaries about their procedures. Travis County is a big county, a tech-savvy judiciary. They are perhaps not surprisingly saying, “We don’t anticipate that we’re going to go back to the way things were completely.” There are certain types of matters that you don’t have to have your clients sitting around the courthouse all day waiting around to get reached on a central docket. Travis County is good about reaching people fast, but there are other counties that I get to from time to time, more rural counties where it is an all-day affair just to have a 30-minute hearing. If we could get the judges in those counties comfortable with the technology and being able to do things using Zoom, to me, it presents a tremendous advantage and efficiency, frankly in access to justice too.

The biggest takeaway for me in this is the ability to expand access to justice in a way that we could not have done a few weeks ago. Let’s say one of you decide you’re going to take a pro bono case in Mason County. You’ve got to figure out a way to meet with your client. Maybe you can do that over the phone or maybe you do that on video. Whenever it’s time for the hearing, you’ve got to drive a couple of hours over there. You’ve got to wait perhaps hours for the judge to get to your case behind the criminal case or the family law case or whatever it is, for the fifteen minutes that you need to have your hearing and then drive a couple of hours back.

From a pro bono perspective, that’s hard for lawyers to think about taking that much time away from their practice to do that. If instead you can sit at your desk and be working on your appellate brief or the other cases you’re working on. You’re in the Zoom waiting room waiting. When it’s your turn, you pop up on the screen and here you go. You do your fifteen minutes and then you go back to your work. The potential there is huge to be able to expand, especially in our rural areas of the state where quite frankly we don’t have lawyers.

If it’s a language interpretation, we’ve got lots of places in the state where we have people who don’t have access to interpreters. If you’re west of I-35 and you’re not in El Paso, good luck finding an interpreter for the courts. All of a sudden, we have interpreters now appearing via Zoom and doing the interpretation in ways that are completely seamless for court reporters. Keep going down the list and then the impact on litigants. I was talking with Judge Ferguson out in Brewster County. Think about people having to drive to court to go to Brewster County.

It’s hours of driving, or if you’re in Houston, driving from West Harris County, downtown to the courthouse, finding parking, finding childcare. The efficiency of the system overall and the ability to expand access to justice is tremendous. Todd, what you said is not unique to Travis County judges. I’ve gotten several emails from judges who are looking at their plans for post-June 1st and they’re saying, “We’ve got to keep using Zoom as long as we can. Please don’t get rid of our licenses, because they found the value. There are going to be some cases where it’s going to be in the courtroom but to the degree we can still use it, the better we are.

The biggest takeaway from this current COVID-19 situation is the importance of the court’s ability to expand access to justice. Click To Tweet

You all at OCA have played a big role in getting the judges comfortable with that technology. How have you reached out to the judges in the more rural counties? You hate to make assumptions about judges or anyone, but it’s not surprising that judges in Travis County or Tarrant County, Dallas County, Harris County would be easily transitioned to this technology. Judge Ferguson is the exception as far as rural counties go. He’s also been a leader in this area. What kind of communications did you have with the more rural judiciary to try to bring them into the fold on using Zoom?

I’ll defend my rural buddies as a guy who grew up in rural Texas. It’s been great to watch them quickly embrace it. We’ve not had to pull anybody along for the most part. To some degree, the people in the rural areas see the bigger benefit of this. Thinking about many of those rural judges are circuit-riding judges who have to drive hours and hours to go to the next courthouse over to do a half-day of hearings versus now they can sit in their in their house or their courtroom or wherever they’re at and they can do those. They’ve quickly embraced that while they might not have been exposed to technology in the past and quickly taken that on now.

This is one of the reasons why, and I’m not trying to get me a commercial for Zoom, but that’s why we chose the Zoom platform was because we wanted to find something that was user-friendly. We knew if it was difficult for judges and if it was difficult for attorneys or litigants, we could not make it successful. That was one of the main things we looked at, is it simple to use? We did a webinar. We set up a Zoom helpline where judges and court staff can call. They are busy. They’ve got two staff, but that’s all they’re doing all day long every day. They’re spending an hour on the phone saying, “No, click here.” It’s been working well. We haven’t had any judges who say, “I can’t do this or it’s too hard.” I don’t think it’s a rural-urban divide. We’ve seen widespread adoption across the state.

Have you seen the same response in the appellate courts that you have in the trial courts? It’s a little bit different since you know you’re going for 40 minutes’ worth of argument in the appellate court more at a traditional time.

We’ve got the Supreme Court having already done oral arguments. The thirteenth already has oral arguments. The eighth has had a couple. I know the fourth is scheduled in a couple of weeks to do oral arguments. I know the Court of Criminal Appeals is going to do oral arguments all via remote technology, all use Zoom. I asked them all to give me confirmation before this conversation, but I’m sure the seventh has as well. Maybe some of the others have. They’ve been quick to do it. I emailed them back several weeks ago and said, “Do this and talk about it.” We got them all accounts. They all signed up. They all started using it for internal conferences and purposes.

It’s allowed them to keep functioning as well. The oral argument is a little bit more difficult and complicated because there are a lot of moving parts. Having helped run the Supreme Court’s oral argument every time, it’s like a TV show on the backside a little bit. You should see our script for it. The way it works. Our goal was to make sure that for appellate lawyers and the justices that they had to worry about nothing but what they would have normally worry about in the courtroom. The only thing we asked them to do was mute and unmute themselves. That’s it.

Everything else, we moved them where they needed to be. We made sure their backgrounds were good. We made sure their audio was good. We made sure the attorney, the same thing. We tried to get the attorneys in there and get them comfortable. I told them, “I’m going to meet you. I’m going to turn off your camera.” Our goal with oral arguments was to make sure, if we’re going to do it this way, there’s a job that’s happening here. This is an online courtroom. We don’t want them to be worried about, “I don’t know if my video’s on,” or whatever because you’ve got to focus on what you’re there to do. It’s the same thing for the judges. We wanted them to focus on the same things they’d be focusing on in the courtroom.

I’ve talked to the lawyers who have done the four oral arguments in the Supreme Court, the justices of the Supreme Court, their response to me, which was a little shocking to be honest, was, “I don’t think anything was lost.” I was pleased to hear that from them that they felt like even doing it remotely was good. I don’t know if every appellate lawyer will love this, but Chief Justice Hecht did a national webinar and said that he doesn’t think that we’ve seen the last Zoom oral argument in the Supreme Court, either. We may see some of that going forward especially if, let’s say counsel was from El Paso and they say, “We’d be happy to do it remotely rather than travel to Austin or whatever.” We’ll see the future there as well.

It seems like the same access to justice ideas and concerns would apply to the appellate courts with a little different circumstance. I know El Paso has been offering video arguments for years. I’ve never taken them up on it, but I know some lawyers that have. They were happy with the way that went even years ago.

If you’ve paid attention to the appellate Twitter storm about the US Supreme Court telephonic arguments, there’s a lot we could talk about that. I’m super happy that ours is on video and you guys have a handle on the production. There are no extraneous noises happening in the background.

I was disappointed that the US Supreme court did that via telephone. Not so much because it was the telephone, but it’s harder to do it that way. The justices’ experience might’ve been better on camera because if you’ll watch the Texas Supreme Court oral arguments, they were peppering questions back and forth like they would have been doing in the courtroom versus the, “It’s your turn for your two questions.” I was reading appellate Twitter. Everybody thought it worked. Maybe I was excited it was live. Maybe it worked, but I kept saying, “I was waiting on the call from John Roberts.” I was hoping to get a call to say, “Can you tell me how this works?” He would ask even if we would run the production behind the scenes. We’ve been happy to. Maybe someday we can get them convinced to do it via video. I’m happy we went that way and I’m happy our courts have gone that way. And I think they are happy as well.

All the reviews I’ve heard have been overwhelmingly positive for the way that every level of the Texas Court system has done it. I haven’t heard anyone complain about being on video versus something else.

TALP 12 | Remote Technology

Remote Technology: Those who show up to jury duty are the people who are in vulnerable populations.

 

That does take us through to the next level. We don’t know exactly how long we’re going to be in the situation we’re in. Even though things are starting to open up, they’re not going to reopen suddenly and everything’s going to go back to the way it was. We were talking a little about how we are going to handle jury trials. The Travis County Civil and Family Courts issued a new order saying there won’t be any in-person live jury trials until at least August. This is hot off the presses. I’m seeing in lawyer discussion groups I’m in, this question is being asked every day. What are the rumblings that you hear at OCA about how or when we can expect jury trials to continue?

This is the hardest thing. It’s what’s consuming me every day. They issued guidance allowing courts to resume in-person proceedings on June 1st. They can only do that if they can’t do it remotely. We’re still going to try to continue remote. They have to have a plan for how they’re going to keep people safe in the courtroom. We’ve given them guidance on what that looks like. We’ve still said no jury trials until further guidance. We’re working hard to get them guidance. It’s tricky because to get to a jury of twelve, let’s set aside the trial and do the right deliberation point. To get there, we’ve got to summon in probably maybe 100 people, which means 100 people coming together generally in one spot, which we’ve got to have 6 feet of distancing.

We’ve got to have other precautions in place. Are we going to go to the coliseum or wherever, the community college? Where are we going to do that? Many courts don’t have rooms large enough to do that. When we get to voir dire, how are we going to do that? How are we going to fit even 40 people in a room? Not to say, if someone has better math than me, they can correct me. For twelve people if they’re standing on the wall, it takes 306 square feet. Forty is going to take somewhere around 1,000 to 1,200 square feet. How does that affect you as a lawyer when you’re picking a jury? You can’t see the people in the back. They’re disengaged. The challenges of doing this are significant. You go to say, “Let’s think about doing some of this online.” You hear from others saying, “I can’t possibly do voir dire online. I’m used to taking them in the courtroom. How is this possibly going to work?”

There are a lot of unanswered questions. We’ve convened a group of about 30 practitioners, judges, clerks representing all portions of the Bar to help me and be an advisory group to us. I spent the last two hours on a Zoom call with them talking through it. We got through summons, qualification and voir dire. That’s it. We didn’t get to trial. We didn’t even get through those. We raised a bunch of issues. I have said and I’ll continue to say we will see jury trials this summer. I don’t know what that’ll look like. I don’t know if that’ll be some mixture of online, in person or reduced jury sizes where parties would agree. Even looking at whether or not we look at reducing peremptory challenges by agreement so that the jury voir dire sizes can be smaller. We’ve got a lot of issues.

We hope to get some guidance out to the courts in the next couple of weeks so they can start summoning jurors if they wanted to earlier sometime in June or July. It is a difficult nut to crack. Even though we spent weeks working on the other in person, everything else seems easy now compared to this. At the end of the day, it’s not about being able to do it. It’s also being able to keep the jurors who come in safe as well as everybody else that’s there. Even more importantly, letting them feel like we’re keeping them safe because people are not going to show up if they don’t think we’re keeping them safe. We’ve got to take steps to be able to reassure them of that. That’s what we’re trying to put together and get in place. We’ll see. Stay tuned for more on that. We’re certainly working our hardest to get something up and operational.

That’s a great point about keeping the jurors safe. The other thing that comes to mind is when I see people asking this question about when we’re going to be able to start jury trials again, is a lot of these people forget that there are that buildup and lead time in getting the prospective jurors in the building to start with. You can set these target dates for jury trials, but you’ve got to have enough notice time out there to bring the them in.

The other issue with that we were talking is the mail is slower now. Whereas it might have taken 3 to 6 weeks before, now we’re talking probably 6 to 8 weeks. Here’s a stat for you, Texas courts every day bring in 325,000 people per day to a court building. If you have the municipal courts through the appellate courts, that is our estimate, based upon real numbers from several courthouses. That’s 1% of the population coming in every day. We don’t have a choice but to get it right. We believe we are the government entity in the country that compels the most people to come together.

Not many other governments who do that versus, I might be able to go out and get my haircut, which is not really necessary for me, but I can go out and get my hair cut or go out to a restaurant or whatever on my choice. I get to choose to do that if I want to. We’re talking about compelling tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people to come together. We don’t have a choice but to get it right. We’re trying to take our time and make sure we do that right especially with the jurors. We know who shows up to jury duty. It’s people who were in vulnerable populations many times and other things. We’re going to take our time. We’re going to get it right.

We want to get a jury trial started as quickly as possible, but it’s got to be right. The Chief Justice has been clear about that. Presiding Judge Keller has been clear about that. Everybody has been clear about that all along the way. We’ve had conversations with the governor’s office, they’re certainly supportive. Quite frankly, I’ve said if all the state courts in the country get this wrong, and 3.3 million people show up at a courthouse, which would be the estimates for the country of how many people show up, we will set the whole country back. We’ll have a second wave because the courts did it wrong. The pressure’s on and we’re doing our best to try to get it right.

Those numbers don’t even exist in most lawyers’ minds. The fact is that’s probably right. You’re putting people together, 3 million people. I want to commend OCA. I know you do a great job behind the scenes day in and day out, but it’s critically important work. Talk about a Herculean task that you all are taking on. That sounds like a bit of a cliché, but it’s true. I’ll say I’ve been impressed with how involved you all have been in bringing the judiciary in, getting them comfortable with this idea that I’m sure a lot weren’t comfortable with to start with. We as lawyers, it’s not ideal in some ways.

We have to accept that this is the reality that we’re dealing with. Whatever it winds up looking like when jury trials resume, it’s in everyone’s best interest that they do resume. There have to be some adjustments to what that looks like going forward. It was interesting to see in the guidelines though, that it was anticipated that jury trials could resume this summer. Yet staying open-ended on that, necessarily, based on what we’ve seen in the last few months.

People are not going to show up if they don't think they are safe. Click To Tweet

We would love nothing more than to start jury trials back on June 1st. The way that we did them before and letting every court do that. To some degree, we have to get them up quickly because criminal defendants in jail have a right to a jury trial and they’ve been sitting there now for a couple of months without it. We’ve got to get it going, but at the same time, the bigger issue is we’ve got to get it right. Anyone can Google a story from in Ohio where the judge tried to have what we believe is probably one of the first, if not the first, jury trial to start back during a pandemic. It was a complete disaster.

While they were picking the jury, the defendant fell over and passed out. They decided he might have Coronavirus and now, has exposed everyone in the room. The chief said on a meeting with the local administrative district judges, the confidence in the judiciary and the rule of law are at stake. We have to get this right. We can’t do that where we say we’re going to start back and then it’s a complete disaster. No one will ever show up if we do that. We’re going to take our time. We’re going to get it right, and then we’re going to have jury trials when that happens.

It’s no surprise that Texas would lead the way in trying to get it right and getting it done. You all are to be commended for your work in this area.

The fact that we don’t hear about OCA in the news a lot is probably a good thing. It means that you guys are doing your jobs right because nobody knows who you are and nobody has seen anything behind the scenes that caused a problem. Thank you for all you do.

Thanks very much.

David, this has all been very informative. We do like to have our guests give a tip or tell a quick war story. We’ve gone a little long in this episode, but this has all been super great information. I want to give you the opportunity to give us a tip or a war story that our audience may be interested in.

The tip, which probably everybody who was watching the third Supreme Court oral argument on the first day they did it would know, but is important is to check your internet connection before you have an oral argument. Make sure your internet connection is strong. As everybody probably knows and feels sorry for the guy who was the recipient of this, but we lost an appellate lawyer in the middle of the Supreme Court oral argument. As one of the cohosts of that, we hear the sound of someone disappear, which you could hear on a Zoom call when you’re a cohost or host. I looked down thinking, “Who did we lose?” and the appellate lawyer was gone. It was during the other attorney’s argument. I texted the chief, which was the plan and said, “We lost so and so.”

The chief says, “We need to pause.” He got back on. That was terrible. We move on and then we’re in the middle of his argument and he’s in the middle of a sentence and there he goes, gone again. We pause the timer. We wait for him to come back and thankfully he got back. We realized two things. One, make sure you have a strong internet connection. Second, make sure you have the phone number to call into if you need to do it the old-fashioned way. It all worked out, but it was definitely stressful for him and certainly on the back-end trying to make sure it went smoothly. That would be my tip for you, especially in this day and age of oral arguments remotely is to make sure you have those things in place before you argue.

I feel like that’s the technological equivalent of passing out at the lectern in the middle of your argument. It sounds terrible. That’s some great advice.

We appreciate you coming on. We want to thank our audience for reading this episode. If you’re enjoying this show, please recommend it to colleagues you think might benefit.

TALP 12 | Remote Technology

Remote Technology: Check your internet connection before you have an oral argument.

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