Michigan online court proceedings here to stay

LANSING – State Court Administrator Thomas Boyd has said that using online platforms such as Zoom to conduct legal proceedings is “the biggest boost to access to justice in our country. life ”and that it will continue long after the end of the coronavirus pandemic.

Boyd sent a memo to judges and court administrators last week stating that several pandemic court orders would likely become permanent as Michigan emerges from the crisis, including a memo that all judges “are required to make a good faith effort to conduct proceedings remotely each time. possible.”

Pete Musico, 42, from Munith, bottom right, sits for the camera listening as his public defender Kareem Johnson, bottom left, discusses his case with Judge Michael Klaeren, top left, and Sunita Doddamani, middle, and Gregory Townsend from the Michigan Attorney General's Office.  during a probable causes conference Friday via Zoom at the 12th Jackson County District Court.

The main exception is jury trials, which will continue to be held in person, Boyd said in Thursday’s memo.

In an interview on Tuesday, Boyd said it is likely that testimony in all criminal trials, whether jury trials or bench trials, will need to be conducted in person so that defendants can confront their witnesses. accusers. But it is possible that most civil trials can be conducted online, although some complex business disputes may still require in-person hearings, he said.

Details are still being worked out.

But for most proceedings, “Michigan courts are not going back to the old way,” Boyd said. “Now is not the time to retire from using the technologies that have brought us here.”

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Nearly 1,000 Michigan judges, magistrates and arbitrators have received Zoom licenses and have presided over more than 3 million hours of online proceedings, he said.

“The result? Parties and their lawyers love it. The biggest boost to access to justice ever. Exponential improvement in efficiency.”

Boyd added, “It doesn’t make sense to make a member of the public record for an hour have an audience that will last for five minutes.”

Chief Justice Bridget McCormack has ordered the courts to “keep their foot on the accelerator” and considers the move to online proceedings important for transparency, he said.

While not all Michigan courts now have YouTube channels, those with around 125,000 subscribers, he said.

Boyd said Michigan was ahead of the game when the pandemic hit because state courts began adding television screens and other remote technology in the 1990s or so, in order to conduct hearings. for prisoners in detention without additional risk of moving them to safety.

Michigan courts still generally require face masks and reduced capacity, although discretion increases as infection rates decline.

Boyd said he was awaiting final reports from two working groups – one on “lessons learned” from the move to online court proceedings, and the other on “court transparency, media and privacy. “.

The recommendations of these task forces are expected to be “the basis for a series of proposed rule changes and administrative orders that will be released for comment this fall as the court begins to formally rewrite the rules.” which guide practice and procedure in our courts, ”he said.

The backlog varies from state to state, with many rural communities having little or no backlog and some larger jurisdictions, such as Wayne County, having large ones.

Contact Paul Egan: 517-372-8660 or pegan@freepress.com. Follow him on twitter @ paulegan4. Learn more about Michigan politics and subscribe to our election bulletin.

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