eTrials: Florida and Queensland’s first virtual trials
Last week Cole, Scott & Kissane participated in Florida’s first ever virtual jury selection and trial, with the entire process conducted and streamed live on Zoom, as in Australia, the Queensland Courts conducted a six day hearing entirely online.
The historic one-day Florida trial was a dispute heard in the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida between People’s Trust Insurance Company and Yusem Corchero et al – an insurance dispute with a homeowner. Eight jurors were selected while at home, but attended the court in person, wearing masks and sitting at a distance from one another. CSK represented the insurer and Vargas Gonzalez Hevia Baldwin the homeowner.
The trial was heard by Judge Beatrice Butchko, who said at the end of the trial: “This is the first case of its kind in Florida under these conditions, and a historic trial. All the professionals and citizens of this county are anxious to get our justice system flowing in terms of getting trials back up and running.”
With a very personal touch she said: “I’ve been a judge for 15 years and I’ve never had to do anything like this.” Handing each juror a certificate to honour their participation, Judge Butchko added: “I really appreciate the opportunity to work with you and I know the lawyers do to.” You can watch that here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7VR9kfbQVW0
The trial happened as cases in Florida continue to surge and the state looks at risk of becoming the epicentre of the virus in the US.
Miami-Dade County Court is one of five trial courts in Florida selected to conduct remote jury trials using remote technology as part of a pilot programme.
Elsewhere, The Land Court of Queensland reports that it recently conducted a six-day mining objection hearing (Pembroke Olive Downs Pty Ltd v Sunland Cattle Co Pty Ltd & Ors) completely online. All documents were sent to the Court electronically and filed using the Court’s document management system.
The hearing itself was conducted via Pexip videoconferencing software, and, at its peak, up to 14 external participants were in the conference. Four counsel appeared. A combination of Pexip and the Court’s eTrial software was used to display and share documents, as well as manage exhibits. All parties uploaded documents to the site and the Court Registry and Associate managed the site.
There were 450 exhibits. Ordinarily, the Court would conduct a site inspection on the first day of the hearing, however due to restrictions on travel, the parties conducted a “virtual” site inspection using a helicopter to take footage of the site. On the first day of hearing, the Court and everyone in the videoconference watched flyover videos, which were accompanied by images showing the flight paths plotted over the mining lease application areas. During the videos, counsel for the applicant gave some commentary and noted points of particular interest which could also be seen on the images. “This was a great alternative, particularly in this case, where the flyover allowed the Court to see more of the site than would have been possible if we had conducted the inspection in person, simply due to the large area of the mining lease application area,” the court report says.
There was a concurrent evidence session involving five experts, all in different locations. The concurrent evidence session lasted three days.
The report, which you can find on www.remotecourts.org, concludes: “Given the nature of the issues and the number of participants, the potential for technical difficulties and delays was high. However, the Court encountered very few difficulties and the entire hearing ran smoothly.”
Comment: Let’s not forget how much progress has been made culturally and technologically since the start of COVID-19. While Opus 2 was already making strides in making trials paperless, the lengths that courts are currently going to continue to deliver justice in extremely difficult scenarios is astonishing. The website above was launched by Richard Susskind to chart other progress and successes and is well worth a look.