Family Law

Family Law News Issue 3, 2021, Volume 43, No. 3

Arguments and Proposed Standards for Virtual Appearances, Redux1

David M. Lederman, CFLS2

Virtual trials are efficient, cost effective, and allow for significantly better access to justice than "in person" trials. When the COVID-19 Pandemic caused courts to shut down across California and beyond, each of the 58 counties in California hobbled together their respective plans for reopening, both virtually and physically. Many counties began using some form of a remote hearing/trial platform, such as Zoom, BlueJeans, WebEx, Teams, and others. There are people on both sides of the well still longing for a physical reopening. They should not.

The Judicial Council of California issued its first Interim Report on Remote Access to Courts on August 16, 2021.3 The report was prepared by the Workgroup on Post-Pandemic Initiatives convened by Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye. The first interim report focused on remote access to courts, which, unsurprisingly, has emerged as a central issue with strong support for maintaining extensive remote access to court proceedings. The report was informed by input from forty-six different groups—including civil and criminal attorneys, law enforcement, legal aid attorneys, dependency counsel, and court staff. The Workgroup made the following recommendations:

  • California courts should expand and maximize remote access on a permanent basis for most proceedings and should not default to pre-pandemic levels of in-person operations.
  • The Judicial Council should encourage and support courts to substantially expand remote access through all available technology and should work to promote consistency in remote access throughout the state to ensure that Californians have equal access to the courts while providing flexibility to meet local needs.4

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