Edward R. Blumberg
While the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in a number of innovations to address the public health threat of the virus, one of the most significant temporary measures was the virtualization of court proceedings via virtual platforms. Initially thought to be a temporary adaptation to the challenges posed by the pandemic, there has been a growing interest in eliminating in-person courtroom proceedings (with the exception of jury trials) and adopting a near wholesale virtual system where motion calendar hearings, special appointment hearings, evidentiary hearings, non-jury trials, and other similar proceedings are all done through remote means. Remote proceedings have something to offer in terms of comfort and convenience, as the participants in remote proceedings can sit behind a desk and do not even have to leave their homes or offices to participate in a court hearing. There are undoubtedly financial benefits to the use of such a virtual system. However, that convenience and those savings are not without their cost. It is a cost borne by our justice system and its ability to provide effective representation to the citizens of our state. If all motion calendar hearings, special appointment hearings, and even evidentiary hearings are virtual, it is not difficult to envision a legal landscape in which new attorneys coming out of law school may never set foot in a courtroom. Experienced attorneys will also suffer the consequences of virtualized hearings and proceedings in that their courtrooms skills and techniques will become stale. For the young attorneys who have come into the profession during the pandemic, their professional growth has already suffered. The virtualization of courtroom proceedings threatens to permanently stunt the growth of this generation as well as future generations of attorneys. These same young attorneys without vital and necessary courtroom experience will go on to become the next generation of judges.
Steven K. Deutsch