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Now a Thing: Jury Trial via Zoom

Texas tries it out for what's believed to be the first time
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted May 19, 2020 12:03 AM CDT

(Newser) – For what officials believe is the first time since the US went into coronavirus lockdown, a virtual jury trial was held Monday. Lawyers in Texas' Collin County selected a jury from among the more than two dozen potential jurors who logged in to the videoconference, Reuters reports. They then served on a one-day trial known as a summary jury trial, a dispute resolution process that involves a condensed version of the case (in this case, an insurance dispute) and a non-binding verdict. The parties involved will review the verdict and go into mediation to attempt to negotiate a settlement Tuesday. Officials say it's the ideal situation in which to test out the idea of remote jury trials.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, "you can’t drag people down to the courthouse and make them sit together for days at a time," a state Supreme Court justice says. "It's just too dangerous." Across the country, courts have limited or halted operations, and officials are trying to figure out how to proceed while keeping everyone safe. Virtual trials, or at least remote jury selection, is a distinct possibility. Monday's jury selection went "pretty seamlessly," Texas Lawyer says, with the exception of one potential juror who wandered offscreen to take a phone call and couldn't hear the judge asking him to return. As for whether Zoom trials will become the new norm, one judge expressed concerns to the Verge. "So much of trying a case from the lawyers’ perspective is having a feel for the courtroom and for the people in the courtroom and what is interesting to them," he says. "So much of presiding over a trial, as a judge, has to do with feel." (Read more coronavirus stories.)

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