How are the courts operating right now? Are things back to normal?
Steven J. Lane
Herman, Herman & Katz
It is as well as could be expected, but it is far from back to normal and may not be for several years. Jury trials are virtually non-existent as it is difficult to put 50 to 100 potential jurors in a room, and even if a jury of 12 were chosen, you cannot expect people to sit next to someone who may be carrying the virus. There is also a longer wait to get courts to hear preliminary motions. Issues related to pre-trial discovery, contempt and other procedural matters are often heard secondary to more emergency issues.
James M. Williams
Chehardy Sherman Williams
The necessary limits on access to jurors has created severe logistical challenges. Unfortunately, videoconferencing cannot substitute for in-person trials because of the jury’s duty to evaluate the demeanor and credibility of witnesses. Thankfully, judges and courts have been proactive and creative about preserving litigants’ access to justice. My team is involved in jury trials from coast to coast, and I have found Louisiana judges to be more diligent than most about continuing to push cases toward conclusion in a safe and responsible manner.
Honorable Bernadette D’Souza
Orleans Civil District Court
We have leveraged technology to help keep cases moving, and we also hold matters in person as needed. We have implemented a staggered docket with social distancing protocols as per the guidelines from the city and state, and the CDC. Periodic moratoriums on jury trials have caused a backlog of cases, but we have safely held two trials during the pandemic. We have been open since May 2020, and continue to administer justice in the context of our new ‘normal.’
J. Gregg Collins
Gregg Collins Mediation Arbitration
Three-and-a-half years after opening my company I am mediating online 90% or more of the time. “Zoom” forward to 2020 and that cartoon word meaning “go fast” became a noun, a verb and a way of life for this mediator and the world in general. Over the past year, technology has enabled many to work with others, despite being isolated at home or alone in the office. As Winston Churchill said, ‘A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.’ We have all had to be optimists while being realistic enough to weather the storm of COVID-19.
Barrasso Usdin Kupperman Freeman & Sarver
Our law firm focuses on complex civil litigation. Are things back to normal in that arena? Not exactly, but that’s not necessarily bad news. At the beginning, many cases ground to a halt, with courts postponing hearings and trials. Last summer, I had two trials by Zoom before judges (not juries). At the time, it was a novelty; now it feels like a viable option even after the pandemic is over. The biggest challenge is how to handle jury trials in a safe and effective manner, but I believe that courts, lawyers and clients have all learned new ways to work more efficiently and effectively.