chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.
June 29, 2020 Judicial Division

Chair's Column

Resilience During the Pandemic

By Hon. Elizabeth Lang-Miers (Ret.), Dallas, TX

As I write this, we do not know how long the pandemic will control our lives, or if we will ever return to our pre-pandemic normal. It has been a time of terrible tragedy, fear and rapid change. When courts had to close to the public, Judges and court administration quickly implemented procedures to assure continuation of court operations and communications with counsel and litigants. Judges conducted “virtual” proceedings by phone and video conferencing as well as some live proceedings. Judges, court personnel and lawyers learned to communicate through “Zoom” and by many other platforms. There were glitches in the technology and huge learning curves for all of us. Courts adapted swiftly, however, and judges held hearings and dealt with emergencies remotely. What had been a gradual implementation of technology for courts rapidly accelerated and courts adapted quickly. Jurisdictions established systems and methods to allow safe return to courthouses, screening for COVID-19 and reconfiguring courtrooms to satisfy “social distancing” requirements. Courts also established creative plans to safely conduct jury trials from courthouses, auditoriums and other locations.

The ABA has also quickly responded to the needs and problems created by COVID-19 to address the impact of the pandemic on the justice system. President Judy Perry Martinez established the COVID-19 Task Force to gather a large volume of information concerning best practices for court operations to create a resource page. As your Chair of the Judicial Division, I was appointed to the Task Force and as Chair of the Court Processes Committee of the Task Force. Members of the task force and liaisons have met weekly for many weeks, sharing information about what work is being done relating to access to the courts during the pandemic and posting information on the website daily.  We envision that there will be a need for the Task Force and the work of the committees for quite a while. The JD has created a resource page for COVID-19 and the courts as well.  We invite you to send us information that you think we should add to the website and share with us issues that you believe need we should address, including issues related to court processes.

The Judicial Division has also adapted rapidly because of the pandemic.  Before the Midyear Meeting in February, and just like all of you, the Judicial Division had everything planned and ready to go for the remainder of the bar year.  A new program, the Bench & Bar Academy, was about to be launched in April. Judges were going to discuss issues and practice in a variety of courts and answer questions from other judges and practitioners. Chris Browning, his wonderful committee and our great staff had worked very hard to plan it and make it successful. We reluctantly postponed it because of the pandemic. All of our conferences had great things planned and ready to go. Ultimately, we postponed meetings and programs or presented them virtually. We were also planning for the Annual Meeting and looking forward to meeting in our committees, seeing friends and colleagues and attending great programs in Chicago.  But, instead, we are going to conduct our meetings, watch programs and see our friends and colleagues virtually.

Despite the huge challenges, the JD created and presented many webinars to respond to the needs of our members and the public. On ‎Tuesday, March 24, over 494 people participated in the CLE webinar COVID-19 and Safe Access ‎to the Courts: Strategies and Future Planning, and on Monday, May 4, 240 people participated in ‎CLE webinar Appellate Advocacy in the Age of COVID-19. The JD cosponsored the ABACLE ‎webinar Staying Healthy on the Bench: A Mental Health and Wellness Program for Judges, that ‎took place on Monday, May 11, as well as a National Association of Women Judges webinar ‎Courtroom Tools for Addressing Human Trafficking, Domestic and Sexual Violence, and Child ‎Exploitation During the Time of COVID-19 on Thursday, May 14. On Monday, May 18, the JD ‎presented a Zoom webinar for 470 participants titled From Jury Summons to Jury Trials: ‎Preparing for the Return of Juries to Courthouses During COVID-19. The JD Court Technology ‎Committee presented the CLE webinar E-Discovery 101:  How to Discover and Use ESI in Civil ‎Cases on Thursday, May 21. On Thursday, May 28, the Lawyers Conference presented a Zoom ‎webinar entitled, A Brainstorming Session: Using Special Masters to Help Courts Deal with the ‎Challenges of the Pandemic. The NCSTJ cosponsored the Albany County Bar Association CLE ‎webinar Girls and Girls of Color in the Juvenile Justice System on Tuesday, June 16, and on ‎Wednesday, June 17, the NCALJ presented the CLE webinar Immigration Court Proceedings ‎‎101.‎ On June 3, the JD presented a free Virtual Expo which featured several sponsors who offered ‎ABA Members discounts from organizations such as the Atlanta Opera, HP Printers, Verizon ‎and BlueJeans, and many more.  NCALJ published a survey it conducted concerning how its members and their courts responded to the COVID-19 crisis.  Information about these programs is available on the JD website.‎

In summary, the ABA and JD immediately responded to the issues raised by the pandemic and will continue to work on those issues as long as they are needed. And, most importantly, we have learned that, although it has been a devastating and frightening time, the system of justice remains intact and resilient and that our Judges and court administration will adapt to assure that our system of justice continues to be accessible to all. Thank you for all you have done, all you are doing and all you continue to do for the administration of justice, for your courts and for our members. 

Hon. Elizabeth Lang-Miers, (Ret.)

Hon. Elizabeth Lang-Miers, (Ret.)

2019-2020 Judicial Division Chair