A court in Texas is holding the first jury trial on Zoom. The news comes as court systems across the country face a choice between postponing trials until the pandemic ends or holding remote proceedings.
The case in Texas is an insurance dispute in the Collin County District, as reported by Reuters. Judge Emily Miskel live-streamed the jury selection process via her YouTube channel on Monday morning.
Next, jurors will hear an abbreviated version of the dispute — a lawsuit against State Farm for not covering property damages that occurred during a 2017 storm — and deliver a non-binding verdict. “Officials say the abbreviated format and non-binding verdict make it ideal to test the viability of holding jury trials remotely,” writes Reuters.
Since March, court systems across the country have suspended in-person proceedings to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Trials that could not be postponed have started moving to Zoom. The case in Texas, however, is believed to be the first jury trial to take place on the videoconferencing software.
The San Francisco courthouse was one of the first to begin holding remote proceedings when the pandemic began. Judge Vince Chhabria, who started hearing civil cases on Zoom and live-streaming proceedings to the public, told The Verge in late April that he hoped the process would bring more transparency to the courtroom.
But Chhabria was also wary of moving jury trials to Zoom. “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 told The Verge. “So much of presiding over a trial, as a judge, has to do with feel. I think it would be unfortunate if the new normal became too reliant on remote proceedings.”
There’s also the potential for technical difficulties. During the jury selection process, Miskel coached potential jurors on how to use Zoom on their devices. “Can you turn your device from this way to this way?” she asked one juror, motioning for her to turn her iPad horizontally. The juror complied, but then her image appeared sideways.
Miskel then patiently walked her through how to change her settings to fix the problem. “Oh come on Kathy, come on you can do this,” the juror muttered. “Hey it’s okay, we’re all new to this,” Miskel responded.