Trying Cases During the Coronavirus Pandemic
As I watch the sun set from my back porch, I am pondering the many changes the Coronavirus Pandemic has wrought and the impact it has had on so many aspects of our daily lives. One aspect of my life that has been greatly impacted is how cases are tried now that the courthouses are slowly opening back up. Let me explain.
In the past, I would drive to the courthouse, park my car in the parking garage, walk through the front door of the courthouse avoiding the metal detector, take the stairs to the courtroom de jure, speak with my client in the hallway, and into the courtroom we would go.
Now, I drive to the courthouse in a mask. I park my car in the parking garage which has very few cars—perhaps one-tenth the number before the Pandemic. At the courthouse, I wait in line at the front door. The masked security officers do not recognize me due to my mask and ask me for my security I.D. which would identify me as an “approved attorney” and would allow me to avoid walking through the metal detector. (I have not had to use my security I.D. in perhaps three years, so it is not on me; it’s in my car in the parking garage.) Thankfully, in spite of my mask, I am recognized by one of the security guards (I represented him in his divorce) and I am able to skirt the metal detector and the line of masked persons waiting to walk through it. Upstairs, the few persons in the hallway are speaking in muffled voices through masks. Because of the mandatory mask, I can only see the top half of any person’s face. Those use-to-be familiar faces are no longer. We all seem red-faced, as if someone tied a cord around our necks, and our eyes are bulging out of our faces. Those wearing glasses, including myself, are peering through fogged up lenses. In the hallway outside the courtroom de jure, I meet my client. To understand each other, we have to pull our masks away from our mouths. (Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of the mask?) A few minutes before our scheduled case, we gingerly open the courtroom door—were we supposed to wear gloves, I ask myself?
In the past, once inside the courtroom, I would be greeted by friendly faces—bailiff, court reporter, court staff—prior to my client’s case being called and prior to the Judge’s entrance. Now, there are no friendly faces inside the courtroom. Everyone else is wearing a government-issued black mask. I feel like I am inside a bank at the moment Jesse James and his gang are robbing it. Then, one would expect to hear: “Alright, everyone git down on the floor and shut up.” Now, the only difference are the words: “All rise” (and perhaps shut up). And, of course, if my client doesn’t “get justice” at the end of her case, she feels like she has been robbed.
In a few months, a jury trial awaits. Until now, there have been no jury trials in this county or in any of the surrounding counties for at least 3 months. I can only imagine what a jury trial will be like. How will the poor court reporter read lips or hear everything that is said, if we are all wearing masks? Will we all be wearing masks? Even the 12 jurors? Will the lawyers pass exhibits to the jurors while wearing gloves?
Oh, and what about jury selection—will 75 people sit 6 feet apart as the attorneys put them through voir dire? Where can 75 people sit 6 feet apart—in a sports stadium, or arena, or coliseum? Will I be questioning jurors over the public address system? That would be my personal dream-come-true: “Ladies, ladies, ladies, and gentlemen, men, men. Welcome, come, come, to Kyle, Kyle Field Field, Field. My, my, my name name is Randy, Randy, Randy, Michel, shell, shell….” I would then use my announcer voice to introduce myself and my accolades to the jury. “Standing 5’11” and weighing in at a svelte 170 pounds, Randy has a 763 – 15 won-loss record over his 40 years of practice. Board Certified in Civil Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Randy has hit 535 homeruns and struck out only 15 times… .”
As the sun sets, the sweat trickles into my eyes waking me from my reverie on my back porch. I guess I need to go inside and cook supper. I think you get the picture. There is a new sheriff in town and his name is Coronavirus. The changes he has made and is continuing to make will be with us for a long time to come. Be flexible and get use to it.